City faces big legal fees for lawsuit over homeless sweeps
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A lawsuit that prompted the city to make significant changes to how it handles property seizures during homeless sweeps is costing taxpayers more money.
Newly-filed court documents show taxpayers could be on the hook for more than $600,000 in legal fees in connection with the lawsuit.
Two legal teams put in thousands of hours for the lawsuit, which was filed on Constitutional grounds. And in the end, lawyers representing a group of homeless people convinced a judge that the way the city was doing its sweeps had to change.
Their work has already led to 19 people whose property was destroyed being awarded $48,500.
Now, the attorneys for the homeless people say the city must pay for their legal fees and expenses, totaling more than $600,000. That's with discounts.
"This is a major case. It took a tremendous amount of work," said Nick Kacprowski, attorney with Alston Hunt Floyd & Ing.
"We took off about $30,000 in fees just right off the top between us and the ACLU. Then on top of that we asked for a 20 percent reduction in our fees and that's another $100,000. We're entitled to get those as the prevailing party in a civil rights case under the civil rights law."
The fees are money that the city wouldn't have had to spend if it had taken the ACLU's deal a year ago, which offered to settle the case for about $28,000.
"They made the decision to defend this case super-aggressively," Kacprowski said.
According to court documents, the city not only put five of its own attorneys on the case, it paid four additional lawyers from an outside law firm $150,000 to help.
When you add the settlement and attorney's fees from both sides, taxpayers could end up paying more than $800,000 for the case.
Ann Kobayashi, Honolulu City Council Budget chairwoman, says people deserve an explanation for the costs.
"We want more details as to how this happened and why," she said. "My biggest concern is the amount of attorney's fees with the amount of the settlement."
A judge will make a decision in October on exactly how much of that $600,000 the plaintiffs' attorneys will get.
ADDITIONAL COURT DOCUMENTS:
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