City Council approves quarter million dollars for outside counsel



Posted on January 14, 2014 at 4:30 PM

Updated Tuesday, Jan 14 at 4:40 PM

SPOKANE, Wash.—The Spokane City Attorney’s office spends thousands of dollars every year on outside lawyers to help defend against those suing the City. The City Council approved spending another quarter of a million dollars of tax money in a couple of separate cases against the City on Monday night.

Hiring outside counsel is normal practice for the City of Spokane, other cities in Washington and Idaho.

In the Jay Merhing appeal in October of 2013, the City attorney’s office was asking for an additional $60,000 in outside counsel fees to fight the $750,000 dollars awarded to the former Spokane police officer for wrongful termination.

The City Attorney’s office asked for another $225,000 for outside counsel in two separate cases on Monday night.

“We evaluate each case on its individual merits and on occasion we resort to outside council for things like conflicts of interest and areas of expertise that we don't have in our in house counsel. We look at each case and determine if we need to go outside,” said Brian Coddington with the City of Spokane.

One of the cases belongs to attorney Richard Wall. His client Leroy Berra is suing the City for excessive force after his client was arrested in 2009.

Wall said he has experience in suits against the police department.

“Yes that's been my experience that they normally litigate these things until they reach a point they have to go to trial on the case then they'll reach a point they'll get into settlement negotiations I've never known them to do that prior to the filing of a lawsuit,” said Wall.

The City’s attorney’s office asked the City Council for $578,080.57 in outside attorney fees from January 2013 to January 2014.

City Attorney Nancy Isserlis said that the City handles litigation on a case by case basis. Some cases require outside expertise and a third party view to better handle a case.

She said if there is a legitimate claim against the City is handled accordingly.

There were close to 60 open cases against the City when Isserlis took office in April of 2012.

Isserlis said when a dollar request is made for outside counsel it does not mean it will cost that much. She said it is just an estimate of what it may cost.