City Desk

Defending Pershing Park Cost D.C. Millions

On Sept. 27, 2002, the Metropolitan Police Department rounded up hundreds of citizens inside Pershing Park. They then arrested them and detained them. For those hours and hours in police custody, these citzens were hogtied. And as soon as the last person was released—the city dropped all charges against everyone in this case—everyone knew that the class-action cases were soon to follow.

The Pershing Park case was an embarrassment for the city which had once prided itself on hosting protests without resorting to heavy-handed tactics. Chief Charles Ramsey's reputation took a big hit. [Chief Cathy Lanier was also involved].  The cases could have been settled a long time ago. Except that....the city lost key evidence in the case and a then-Attorney General Peter Nickles decided to play stall ball.  The case became endless. Here's a handy rundown.

Some of the cases have settled. The city has given out millions and millions. The settlement amounts related to Pershing Park and another protest case have been historic. One case is still pending.

But now comes the real punch in the face. WaPo's Del Quentin Wilber is reporting that the District has paid out more than $2 million in attorney's fees for the lawyers representing the police officials behind Pershing Park. That's quite a defense fund!

Wilber writes:

"The tally came in a filing late Thursday in the District's federal court by lawyers representing four bystanders who were among those swept up and arrested in Pershing Park during demonstrations against the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. 'The District continues to seek to drive up costs and prolong litigation in this case,' lawyers Daniel C. Schwartz and Jonathan Turley wrote in court papers, adding the city has 'spared no expense' in defending former Chief Charles H. Ramsey and Assistant Police Chief Peter Newsham."

To give you a sense of the amazing gravy train this case has become, a recent court filing shows that ex-Chief Ramsey's lawyer, Mark H. Tuohey III, wants $80,628 in attorney fees for work done from Sept. 1 through Dec. 31, 2010.

In the filing, the District's lawyers justified the fee's amount this way: "During the four-month period for which fees are requested by this Motion, counsel prepared and responded to pleadings, participated in various aspects of pretrial discovery and trial preparation, and, in conjunction with the Office of the Attorney General, counsel participated in many telephone conferences."

Trial preparation? Really? Phone calls?

The District has approved the money. The District Court judge in the case just has to sign off the funds.

*file photo of Ramsey by Darrow Montgomery.

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  • shameonuall

    Why would you think that this would not happen?

    You are talking about a government which rounded up and incarcerated hundreds of its own citizens, hogtying them and leaving them on the floor of a gym for 13 hours.

    Why do you think that it would not then soak the public in its own defense?

    You do realize that even if they lose that none of the officers involved will have to pay a dime as a result. The city will cover their expenses. And unless they commit a felony they all have immunity from prosecution. They have given it to each other.

  • Jason Cherkis

    I am well aware of the lawsuit's history. I think you missed my point. The District was always going to lose these cases. But instead of just settling and moving on, the District lost or destroyed evidence, played politics, threw up motion after motion, got at least one judge furious, and on and on. That $2 million in attorney fees could have been avoided.

  • Pingback: District spends millions defending officials in Pershing Park case « D.C. Police Union

  • Truly Frightened

    Not only could this 2 million dollars have been avoided but the district seems to be determined to waste tax dollars on many avoidable law suits. Case-in point, the Attorney Generals Office's use of invalid breath test results when bargaining with defendants who then pleaded guilty to driving while intoxicated charges is sure to lead to law suits that will cost the district millions of dollars.
    The amazing thing is no mention has been made regarding the Chief of Police or the Assistant Chief in charge of that unit failure to take any type of action once they learned about the problem. Surely they had the ability to remove the machines until the problem could be investigated and fixed.
    After they were told by the officer that the machines were not calibrated correctly what action did they take? None, it appears. The department continued using the machines knowing the test results were faulty. I for one would like the council to hold another hearing so that the chief and assistant chief can explain their actions or lack of action. The district cannot afford to keep sending good money after bad.

  • TripLBee

    The $2 million was undoubtedly covered by insurance the city has for these instances. And while I'm glad that City Paper covers issues related to governmental malfeasance, since God knows WaPo will never do so, can anyone really be surprised by this?

  • NU78

    TripLBee, doesn't the D.C. government self-insure?

    I think the Gray administration should settle the outstanding lawsuit pronto, so the city's treasury can stop bleeding over this illegal travesty committed by the Williams administration!

  • Terry Miller

    The city does not have insurance. It is self-insured. Payments for law suits come out of a special fund, called the Setttlement and Judgements funds, and in some cases, from the agencies involved (in the case of back pay awards).

    The AG needs to take an objective look at all the pending cases and evaluate the ones which have merit and settle them for a reasonable amount.

  • Pingback: The Washington Post praises D.C. Attorney General Irving Nathan « D.C. Police Union