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City seeks to reduce lawsuit fees

Boulder City is hoping to pay about $150,000 less than ordered for attorney fees for six residents who the Nevada Supreme Court ruled were wrongfully sued by the city after they circulated three ballot initiative petitions in 2010.

The hearing, scheduled for Monday, stems from an April 10 decision by Judge Steven Kosach, who ruled in favor of the residents, according to former Boulder City Councilwoman Linda Strickland.

Strickland and her husband, Tracy, represented Daniel Jensen, Walt Rapp, Frank Fisher, Cynthia Harris, Nancy Nolette and James Douglass in the case.

The city sued to challenge the legality of the three initiatives, which limited city debt, established term limits for volunteer committees and prevented the city from owning more than one golf course. City staff believed the initiatives overstepped the city’s administrative authority and that naming the petitioners in a lawsuit was the only way to have a court examine the initiatives.

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.

The Supreme Court overturned the rulings of three District Court judges, ruling that the city’s lawsuits 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.

On June 5, Kosach ordered the city to pay the defendants’ attorney fees no later than July 5. But City Attorney Dave Olsen said the city thinks the amount of money exceeds what staff thinks is appropriate.

“The city is clearly going to have to pay something,” Olsen said. “We thought it was just not reasonable.”

Strickland said the city is just delaying the inevitable, and doesn’t see any reason why Monday’s hearing would go in the city’s favor.

“We don’t expect Judge Kosach to change his opinion because the city didn’t provide any new facts to make him change his opinion,” she said.

According to Strickland, city officials are looking to pay $30,000, a sixth of the $180,000 ordered. She said she thinks the $180,000 amount is appropriate.

“They want to pay us $30,000 for four years of work,” she said. “They know they have to pay us something, but unfortunately they want to pay us pennies on the dollar.”

The city has already paid approximately $200,000 for its own attorney fees throughout the case, according to Strickland, and that total will grow the longer the case drags on.

Olsen couldn’t confirm exactly how much the city paid for its attorney fees, but said $200,000 was “pretty close.”

If the city’s motion is denied, it then has 30 days to file an appeal with the Supreme Court. Strickland said she’s almost certain the city will file an appeal if its motion is denied.

Olsen said the city hasn’t contemplated that option yet.

“I’m not really at liberty to speculate,” he said. “We’ll consider our options, but we haven’t made any plans at this juncture.”

If the city chooses to file an appeal, a decision might not be made until the beginning of 2016, Strickland said. She also said she plans to seek any new lawyer fees accrued since the April 10 ruling.

“The city can continue to run the bill up as much as (it wants), but it will cost taxpayers more money,” she said.

Three new lawsuits were filed in June by the initiative sponsors against the city to seek damages from the SLAPP, Strickland said.

Under a SLAPP, a person who is wrongfully sued has the right to bring his or her separate action for compensatory actions stemming from the lawsuit, which include emotional distress and public humiliation.

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

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