San Luis Obispo will pay lawyers who argued homeless lawsuit

acornejo@thetribunenews.comMarch 6, 2013 

The San Luis Obispo City Council voted 3-1 in closed session Tuesday to not appeal a Superior Court judge’s order to pay $133,880 in legal fees and other associated costs to the two attorneys who sued the city over its treatment of homeless people living and sleeping in their vehicles.

Councilman Dan Carpenter was the lone dissenting vote.

“Essentially, we have "settled" this issue with the attorneys by passing a watered down "no sleeping and camping" ordinance,” said Carpenter. “I believe we have left ourselves vulnerable to see future lawsuits addressing the same issue of the unconstitutionality of our ordinance. I couldn't in good conscience agree to pay attorney fees to the Homeless Alliance attorneys knowing we will most likely be sued again and will be subject to additional litigation fees until we settle this fundamental question.”

The money will come from the city’s general fund, said City Manager Katie Lichtig.

A 14-page ruling issued by Superior Court Judge Charles Crandall in January said attorneys Stewart Jenkins and Saro Rizzo 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.

Jenkins and Rizzo will receive $132,990 in attorneys' fees -- the equivalent of 443.3 hours at the rate of $300 per hour. They would also receive $890 in additional costs, such as filing fees.

The ruling brings the city's cost to settle the lawsuit to more than $270,000.

In January the council attempted to make a deal with the two attorneys by offering to waive its rights to appeal the 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.

Jenkins declined that offer.

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.

Reach AnnMarie Cornejo at 781-7939. Stay updated by following @a_cornejo on Twitter.

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