Last week the plaintiffs in the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) lawsuit are asking for $4.1 million in legal fees as well as about $75,000 in court costs. Including the City’s legal fees, Santa Clara is on the hook for almost $5 million. The legal meter is still climbing because the City appealed the court’s decision.
By law, winning plaintiffs in CVRA lawsuits are entitled to full reimbursement for lawyers fees and court costs.
The lawsuit against Santa Clara, first threatened in 2011, was filed in early 2017 and was heard in Santa Clara County Superior Court last April. Judge Thomas Kuhnle found that Santa Clara had violated the CVRA and ordered the City to elect its Council by single-member districts.
In addition to the plaintiffs’ legal bills, the City must also pay its own bills, which appear to average $58,000 a month — as of September the City had paid its attorney, Steven Churchwell, roughly $580,000.
City Hall claims attorney-client privilege allows them to conceal legal costs from taxpayers. However, all City payment records are public and can be found in the “Bills and Claims” that are approved en masse in Council consent calendar.
Update: A previous version of this article said the CVRA lawsuit plaintiffs were asking for $2.3 million in legal fees. That has been updated to $4.1 million, brining the total legal costs to about $5 million.
It seems the lawyers for the plaintiffs are billing the City for the time they spent opposing Measure A. Paragraph 55 of the Baller declaration says this: “Attorneys from the legal team made presentations against Measure A to community and political groups, recruited local individuals and organizations to oppose the ballot measure, communicated with the media, and provided and reviewed input on written materials developed for the “No on Measure A” campaign. Plaintiffs’ Counsel also recruited nonlawyers (including one contract employee of ALA specially hired for the Measure A campaign, whose time and cost is not including in Plaintiffs’ requested recovery, and several of the Plaintiffs themselves who wished to participate in the campaign), and briefed and advised them as to possible arguments against Measure A and tactics for the No on Measure A campaign.”
If they didn’t volunteer their time, but expected to get paid for it, shouldn’t that have been reported as an in-kind contribution to the No on Measure A campaign? And shouldn’t ALA have reported the time of that employee as a contribution to the campaign as well? Will the Silicon Valley Voice investigate these potential FPPC violations by these groups?