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Payments made to residents in SLAPP

After five years of litigation, the final chapter has been written about the six residents who the Nevada Supreme Court said were wrongfully sued by Boulder City for circulating ballot initiatives.

The District Court ordered the city to pay a combined $237,500 to the residents and their attorneys, putting a lengthy and expensive part of Boulder City’s history in the books.

In total, it cost the city about $800,000.

It all started in 2010 after the city sued to challenge the legality of the three ballot initiatives the residents had circulated. 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 intention was to see if the 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 was denied.

City officials said a check worth $175,000 was written to Linda Strickland. She and her husband, Tracy Strickland, represented the residents throughout the lawsuit.

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

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

Nothing changed until a settlement was reached, he said. The city deposed each plaintiff, and the Stricklands deposed the City Council and anyone 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.’ ”

Both parties began discussions in late January, but Tracy Strickland said it took about six weeks to come to an agreement.

Olsen said the city paid Lionel Sawyer &Collins $188,283 for its services. Steve Morris was paid $208,486 for his time representing Boulder City.

The total settlement of $237,500 resulted in an average of $39,583.33 per resident, about 40 percent of what the Stricklands originally asked for when they filed for compensatory damages.

According to District Court records, Nancy Nolette and Cynthia Harris each received a check for $33,000. Daniel Jensen was paid $23,000, and James Douglass and Walt Rapp were each paid $18,000. A second check was written to Linda Strickland in the amount of $112,500.

Frank Fisher, the sixth resident involved in the lawsuit, died shortly before the Supreme Court ruled in the residents’ favor. He did not receive any monetary compensation.

Even though the information was public record, Linda Strickland would not tell the Boulder City Review how much the settlement was worth.

“The settlement is not confidential, but I’m not going to disclose it to you,” she said. “A good settlement is one where everyone walks away from the table a little unhappy.”

She said a reason for settling was partly because of pending Senate Bill 444, which would weaken Nevada’s anti-SLAPP statute. The bill was introduced in the state Legislature in April.

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