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Monday, January 12, 2015

Ind. Courts - "Cost of South Bend wiretapping legal fight at $800,000 and counting"

That is the headline to this Sunday story by Madeline Buckley of the South Bend Tribune. Some quotes:

SOUTH BEND — The city and the Common Council together have spent almost $800,000 on attorney fees so far in the ongoing wiretapping litigation, a legal quagmire that is not done racking up costs.

The expensive litigation begs the question: Was it worth it?

“We’re all frustrated with the cost and length of these legal proceedings, but things have now reached the point that only the courts can draw the line decisively on whether these recordings can be accessed without violating federal laws,” Kara Kelly, spokeswoman for the mayor’s office, said in a statement.

Between the council and the city, the funds paid four law firms to work on the cases related to what has colloquially been called the police tapes. The city also settled three lawsuits in connection to the tapes for another $810,000, making the total cost of the matter about $1.6 million.

And the meter is still running.

The legal battles are rooted in a South Bend Police Department practice of recording some officers’ phone lines that generated heated controversy in 2012 when Mayor Pete Buttigieg demoted then-police chief Darryl Boykins. * * *

So far, the Common Council has spent $110,139, and still owes $86,557. The council hired the local firm May Oberfell Lorber to argue the phone tap did not violate federal law.

The city has spent $581,911 and contracted three law firms at different phases in the matter: Faegre Baker Daniels, Dixon Wright and Associates and Stephen Cowen. The city’s attorney fees also include settlement negotiations with the four officers, as well as DePaepe and Boykins, who also sued the city.

The city settled for $500,000 with the officers, $75,000 with Boykins and $235,000 with DePaepe. The settlement money comes from a different pool of funds, though it’s still taxpayer money. To pay for settlements, each city department pays into a fund that acts as an insurance fund for the city. The city used money from the general fund for the attorney fees.

But the last remaining legal question is whether the tap on Young’s line was illegal, which would determine whether anyone can listen to the content without breaking the law. The city, joined by the four officers, battled the council on that question during a two-day trial in August.

U.S. District Judge Joseph Van Bokkelen has not yet ruled on the case. The judge did not return a call requesting the status of the case.

Here is a SBT graphic, showing the distribution of legal fees.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on January 12, 2015 09:46 AM
Posted to Indiana Courts