Attorneys reject city of SLO's offer to settle homeless citations ruling

Two attorneys owed $133,000 in legal fees have refused the SLO council’s request that they give half the money to a homeless services group in exchange for the city waiving its right to appeal

acornejo@thetribunenews.comJanuary 23, 2013 

A line of cars on Prado Road, where many homeless gathered to live and sleep in their vehicles.

JOE JOHNSTON — jjohnston@thetribunenews.com Buy Photo

The San Luis Obispo City Council wanted to make a deal with the two attorneys to whom it owes more than $100,000 after a Superior Court judge found the city liable for the legal fees the lawyers accrued while suing the city for its treatment of homeless people living and sleeping in their vehicles.

But Wednesday evening, City Attorney Christine Dietrick had a letter waiting for her from one of the attorneys, Stewart Jenkins.

“I just returned from meetings to find a letter from Stew saying that the answer to council’s offer is ‘no,’ ” Dietrick wrote in an email. “There is no further discussion, explanation or counter offer.”

The council voted 4-1 in closed session Tuesday night to waive its rights to appeal the recent ruling and pay the full judgment, but only if the attorneys agreed that half would be paid to them and the other half to Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo County to be spent on local homeless services.

Mayor Jan Marx was the sole dissenting vote. She could not be reached for comment.

Last week, a 14-page ruling issued by Superior Court Judge Charles Crandall ordered the city to pay $133,880 to Jenkins and the other lawyer, Saro Rizzo. The ruling found that the attorneys acted in the public’s interest, resulting in the dismissal of 99 criminal citations for people living and sleeping in their vehicles on public streets.

The lawsuit challenged a city law that prohibited people from sleeping in their vehicles as unconstitutional. That resulted in Crandall issuing a preliminary injunction that stopped the city from issuing tickets.

San Luis Obispo later reached a settlement with Jenkins and Rizzo, which ultimately changed those tickets from criminal misdemeanors to parking citations. Jenkins and Rizzo were representing the San Luis Obispo Homeless Alliance.

The city paid more than $130,000 in legal fees to an Oakland law firm hired to defend the case and more than $10,000 in staff time.

Payment of the legal fees brings the city’s cost to settle the lawsuit to more than $270,000.

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