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City agrees to settle with residents

The six residents who the Nevada Supreme Court said were wrongfully sued by Boulder City after they circulated ballot initiatives are negotiating a settlement with the city.

Although nothing is official, both parties said a settlement was in the works, which would draw the five-year, ongoing litigation to a close.

“Hopefully, in a matter of a week or so we should have agreements signed. That’s what I’m hoping for,” said Steve Morris, who represented Boulder City in the case.

After the three ballot initiatives were circulated in 2010, the city sued to challenge their legality. The initiatives aimed to limit city debt, establish term limits for volunteer committees and prevent the city from owning more than one golf course.

The city, represented by the law firm Lionel Sawyer &Collins, successfully argued in District Court in Clark County that it had the right to sue the petitioners to challenge the initiatives.

But the Supreme Court overturned the rulings of three District Court judges, ruling that they were strategic lawsuits against public participation, or SLAPPs, and the city could have challenged the initiatives by naming the secretary of state or another government entity as a defendant.

City Attorney Dave Olsen said the city’s lone intention was to see if the petitioners’ initiatives were legal by filing a declaratory relief.

“Three judges we went in front of said this is definitely not an anti-SLAPP situation, then the Supreme Court sat on it,” he said about the previous rulings that favored the city. “If we would have had (an intermediate appellate court), maybe our case wouldn’t have gotten hung up with the Supreme Court until the Legislature had a chance to come around and change the law on us and then apply it to us retroactively.”

In September, District Judge Steven Kosach ordered the city to pay the residents $190,000 in attorney fees. The city sought to have the judgment reduced to $30,000 but that request was denied.

Additionally, three new lawsuits were filed in June by the initiative sponsors against the city to seek damages from the SLAPP, said former Boulder City Councilwoman Linda Strickland, who represented the residents along with her husband, Tracy Strickland.

In October, the Stricklands requested $100,000 in compensatory damages for each plaintiff. Olsen said then the city would aggressively defend itself.

Nothing had changed from then until a settlement was agreed upon, Olsen said. The city deposed each one of the plaintiffs, and the Stricklands deposed City Council members and anyone else who may have had relevant information , Olsen added.

“When we said ‘aggressively defend,’ that means we’re going to do everything we can to protect the city’s interest,” he said. “There comes a time in virtually every lawsuit when people have to be pragmatic and say, ‘You know … instead of forging on and continuing the battle, it’s better for both sides to see if we can resolve it through negotiative settlement.’ ”

The city also filed an appeal with the state Supreme Court on the original lawsuit that went in the residents’ favor. According to the Supreme Court’s website, the city’s appeal was filed Oct. 28, but Olsen said the appeal was just to have it on record so the city had time to assess possible actions.

Both parties began discussing a settlement in late January, but Tracy Strickland said it took about six weeks to come to an agreement. Neither party would divulge monetary information about the settlement since details were not yet finalized and no paperwork had been signed.

In September, Olsen said the city had already paid about $200,000 for its attorney fees. According to city records, Morris billed the city $52,222 in December for his time spent representing Boulder City in 2014.

“You can imagine the array of feelings they’ve been through,” Strickland said about the residents. “I suspect that the city wanted to put this behind them.”

Contact reporter Steven Slivka at sslivka@bouldercityreview.com or at 702-586-9401. Follow @StevenSlivka on Twitter.

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