SLO City to pay attorney fees after all



The San Luis Obispo City Council majority has agreed to pony up $133,880 for a pair of local litigators who represented nearly 100 homeless people charged with sleeping in their vehicles.

In closed session on March 5, the council voted 3-1—with Councilman Dan Carpenter dissenting—to not appeal an award by a Superior Court judge and pay fees to SLO-based attorneys Stew Jenkins and Saro Rizzo.

Judge Charles Crandall ruled in January the attorneys were acting in the public interest in filing the lawsuit, which resulted in the dismissal of 99 criminal citations.

The pair will receive $132,990 in legal fees—which include roughly 440 hours of work on the lawsuit, according to Crandall—at a rate of just more than $300 an hour. Additionally, the two will be compensated nearly $900 in additional costs, such as filing fees.

Following the council decision, Jenkins noted that California law reflects that the risks to attorneys taking such public interest cases is so great that it allows for attorneys to seek a “multiplier” of up to three times their regular hourly rate. He and Rizzo waived that right, Jenkins said.

“We would not have done so had we been motivated to bring the case by the prospect of financial gain,” Jenkins told New Times.

Prior to the award, the city had already paid $147,958 to fight the lawsuit, including more than $130,000 to contract legal services to an Oakland firm, as well as mediation costs and court reporting expenses, according to City Attorney Christine Dietrick. All told, as of March 12, the city has paid nearly $282,000.

That total will come out of the city’s general fund, Dietrick reported.

“The unfortunate truth,” Crandall wrote in his Jan. 17 ruling, “… is that all types of civil litigation today are very expensive.”

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