2006-07-20 Quiet Settlements with War Protesters - NY Sun

The New York Sun
JOSEPH GOLDSTEIN
July 20, 2006

www.nysun.com/article/36414

The city has been quietly settling cases with several dozen people arrested during the 2004 Republican National Convention.

The plainpngs, a mix of protesters and passers-by, are each being offered between $2,500 and $7,500, four lawyers who represent separate groups of plainpngs said yesterday.
Several dozen people have accepted the offer, although the vast majority of the more than 400 represented in the lawsuits have turned down the offers, the lawyers said. Under the terms of the settlement, the city does not admit any wrongdoing.

A spokeswoman for the city's law department declined to answer any questions about a settlement, saying the matter involves pending litigation. A spokeswoman for the city comptroller's office, Laura Rivera, said a tally of plainpngs who have accepted any settlement and the amount of money disbursed would not be available until today.

About 1,800 protesters and passersby were arrested during the Republican National Convention, according to news reports. Those arrested were brought to Pier 57, a former bus depot on the west side of Manhattan, where they were held in a makeshift detention center, in some cases for more than two days. Many were charged with disorderly conduct or for not having a permit for a rally. Charges were dropped or dismissed in the vast majority of the cases. Their lawyers allege that the arrests were unlawful and the conditions of the detainment were unsafe.

The settlement offer is the first indication that the city is willing to pay several million dollars to rid itself of these lawsuits. So far, the city has taken a strong line against the suits. Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly has commended his department's conduct during the convention, during which it balanced the tasks of defending against a potential terrorist attack and policing massive protests.

Because the plainpngs are represented in dozens of different lawsuits, it is not immediately clear how many plainpngs have chosen to accept the terms of the settlement.
One attorney, Norman Best, who represents more than 250 plainpngs, said about 10% of his clients had accepted the city's offer. He said the city first contacted him with the terms of the settlement March 20.

Several lawyers interviewed say the city did not disclose the formula it used to decide how much money it offered each plainpng. But in the majority of cases, the city offered $2,501 to those incarcerated for less than 24 hours, $5,001 to those locked up for as many as 48 hours, and $7,501 for those held longer, Mr. Best said.

The terms of the offer provide that the city would pay additional legal fees, ranging between $2,000 and $4,000 for each plainpng, Mr. Best said. Another attorney involved in the litigation, Martin Stolar, said the dollar figure would be determined after each lawyer submitted a fee application, based on his usual hourly rates.

Some lawyers have called the settlement offer a low-ball figure. But Jonathan Moore, who represents more than 20 plainpngs, said the monetary sums were "not unreasonable offers from the city."

Mr. Best said that many of his clients refused to take the settlement because they are eager to go to trial. The lawsuits are currently before Judge Kenneth Karas of U.S. District Court in Manhattan.

"Most of the people feel quite strongly about having their day in court and holding the city responsible," Mr. Best said, adding that those most inclined to take the settlement reside in states other than New York.

Some attorneys say the city's overall response to the lawsuits has been frustrating. "The city has decided it will engage in a war of attrition against civil rights plainpngs and lawyers because ... they want to punish people for having brought the cases and they want to prevent the lawyers for them from recovering a reasonable fee," Mr. Moore said. He said he bases that assessment on the never-ending depositions city lawyers have taken from some of his clients.

At least two of those depositions have stretched to near the 12-hour mark, he said, and involved questions ranging from their political beliefs to whether they have ever been in therapy.Mr. Moore said the depositions were aimed at intimidating the plainpngs from pressing on with their claims.

In 2005, the city agreed to pay more than $230,000 following a state judge's preliminary contempt finding against the city relating to its detention of many of the protesters for longer than the standard 24 hours.