City's decision to pass on ACLU settlement offer proves costly mistake

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - It was a case the ACLU offered to settle for $28,000.

But a lawsuit that prompted the city to change how it handles property seizures during its homeless sweeps wound up costing taxpayers on Oahu well over a half million dollars.

After months of litigation, the city of Honolulu paid out $48,500 to 19 people whose property was destroyed during its homeless sweeps.

But the big money went to attorneys.

In December, a court ordered the city to pay two law firms who represented the group of homeless people $395,000. Add that to the $150,000 the city spent to beef up its own legal team -- the total cost of the case came in at $593,500.

"They ended up paying way more than they should have had to," said Nick Kacprowski, attorney for  Alston Hunt Floyd & Ing.

Kacprowski, whose legal team worked in conjunction with the ACLU,  gave the city every opportunity to settle the case before it went to court.  Instead it took a dozen hearings and close to 2,000 hours to finally reach a settlement.

"It was incredibly bad judgment for the city not to do that early on.  Instead of paying close to $400,000 in attorneys fees plus close to $40,000 in damages to the plaintiffs, they could have paid less than $30,000," said Kacprowski.

Hawaii News Now reached out to the city to see if it regretted not settling the case sooner. Officials didn't answer the question.

But Donna Leong, with the city's corporation counsel, did send this statement:

Before the lawsuit was filed by the ACLU, the city was willing to discuss an amicable resolution of the matter, including options that would allow the city to address the situation in a humane and professional manner and that would reduce the ACLU's need to incur attorneys' fees and expenses.  During the pendency of discussions with the ACLU, and without giving the city a reasonable opportunity to determine the merits of the plaintiffs' claims, including verification of the dollar amounts being demanded by the plaintiffs, the ACLU filed the lawsuit.  Thereafter, the city worked diligently with the ACLU in agreeing to the terms of a stipulated order that would eventually be signed by U.S. District Court Judge Helen Gilmor.

Attorneys say they are continuing to monitor the city to make sure all homeless sweeps are in compliance with the court ruling.  As for the $395,000 -- Kacprowski says much of the award will allow attorneys at the firm to take on similar types of cases in the future.

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