SLO loses another battle in its fight against the homeless
January 17, 2013
San Luis Obispo County Superior Court Judge Charles Crandall awarded the two lawyers who sued the city for unconstitutional treatment of the homeless $133,880 for costs and legal fees on Thursday.
Laws permit attorneys who undertake cases on behalf of the poor and downtrodden to request attorney’s fees if they win the case. If they lose, they would get nothing.
“Basically the court decided that the SLO Homeless Alliance vindicated important public rights justifying an order that the city pay attorney’s fees in the amount $133,880.34,” Jenkins said. “We are glad the city council is starting to refocus on solutions to help those who have no roof over their head.”
In April, attorneys Saro Rizzo and Stew Jenkins filed a lawsuit accusing the city of San Luis Obispo and its chief of police of discrimination, harassment and the criminalization of homeless people. Following a decision by a superior court judge that the city’s treatment of the homeless was unconstitutional, the San Luis Obispo City Council agreed to dismiss all tickets given last year to homeless residents for sleeping in their vehicles.
City officials battled against paying the attorney’s claim because the city elected to settle to avoid higher legal fees. Crandall said the agreement to settle does not support denying attorney’s fees which “could have easily exceeded $1 million.”
If the city appeals Crandall’s ruling and the appellate court upholds the trial court, then the city would have to pay Jenkins and Rizzo’s fees for the appellate work.
The city also questioned the amount Rizzo and Jenkins requested, though the court found it to be in line with the more than $130,000 the city paid an Oakland law firm to defend their case, the court did lower the hourly amount from $350 to $300.
Both Rizzo and Jenkins donated their services while defending their clients in the criminal matters related to sleeping in vehicles, which at their regular $350 an hour rate would come to approximately $60,000, and they are not requesting reimbursement.
San Luis Obispo City Councilman John Ashbaugh said on Sept. 27 on the Dave Congalton show that the city would fight against paying fees related to the homeless lawsuits. He also claimed that Jenkins and Rizzo’s filed the lawsuit without first attempting to discuss the ordinance with the city.
However, Jenkins and Rizzo did attempt to work with the city before filing their suit.
On March 19, Jenkins asked the council to suspend its sleeping vehicle ordinance, dismiss pending citations, expunge convictions and return fines because of legal issues with the wording of the ordinance.
The next day, during a March 20 council meeting, City Attorney Christine Dietrick said that the city expected to beat any challenges noting that this type of ordinance was facially (on face not application) upheld in another city. Council members agreed with her and voiced their approval of the nightly raids.
When asked by Dave Congalton if he supports Dietrick and agrees with her legal advice on the homeless ordinances, Ashbaugh said, “Absolutely, she is amazing.”