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Three attorneys will earn about $3.9 million for representing plaintiffs in federal lawsuits who say they were victims of a rogue group of Oakland police officers. In all, the city of Oakland agreed to pay an unprecedented $10.9 million and implement sweeping reforms to settle the suits. The city will initially pay $2.5 million in damages. Oakland City Attorney John Russo stressed that insurance companies will pick up the rest of the $10.9 million. But Oakland will have to dig into city coffers to pay for reforms mandated by the settlement. The agreement is an important milestone in the civil portion of the “Riders” police scandal, in which former officers are accused of brutalizing suspects, planting evidence and falsifying police reports. The criminal trial is ongoing. In December 2000 John Burris, an Oakland solo, James Chanin, a Berkeley attorney, and John Houston Scott of San Francisco filed Allen v. City of Oakland, C00-4599. It is one of several federal suits that claimed civil rights violations by Oakland police. The suits also named the city of Oakland and high-ranking police officials, and plaintiffs sought damages and police department reforms. Oakland has paid about $1 million to outside counsel and for court costs in the Allen case. Much of that money has gone to San Francisco’s Bertrand, Fox & Elliot. The plaintiffs attorneys’ share of the settlement includes a third of $10.5 million in damages that were paid to victims — about $3.5 million. The pair also gets $440,000, which the city and insurers will pay, for attorneys fees tied to the “pattern and practice” allegations in the lawsuit. But the attorneys contend that reform, rather than money, was their true motivation. More than 80 criminal cases that relied heavily on police reports or testimony from the accused officers were eventually dismissed. “It’s really about accountability,” Burris said. “It’s really about a department at the top saying that there is a standard that needs to be upheld.” Chanin, who said he filed his first police-involved shooting lawsuit against the city in 1979, added, “I got tired of the never-ending cycle of our getting money and nothing changing.” “John and I are hoping to be put out of business in Oakland,” he added. Oakland will pay an additional $2 million a year for the next five years to implement the agreed-upon police reforms, such as greater oversight over officers. This includes the $3.5 million cost over the next five years to an independent monitor that will track progress of the reforms. According to Chief Assistant City Attorney Randoph Hall, that will be the D.C. law firm Relman & Associates. Kelli Evans of the firm said she and Christy Lopez — both former senior trial attorneys for the U.S. Department of Justice — are part of the proposed monitoring team. It also includes a retired Los Angeles assistant sheriff and a former police chief from Shreveport, La. The firm was started by civil rights attorney John Relman, who represented plaintiffs that settled race discrimination class actions against the Denny’s restaurant chain in 1994. The Oakland City Council and Senior U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson, who presided over the suits, will be asked to approve the team, Evans said. Changes in the department will affect internal affairs investigations, use of force, management oversight of officers, training and discipline, and will make the police department “more sophisticated,” said Police Chief Richard Word. Tucked among the reforms in the 60-page agreement are expanded roles for the public defender and district attorney’s offices. Lawyers from those offices will help track cases that are dropped or lost due to poor police work or misconduct. Prosecutors and the city attorney are to be notified immediately when there is lethal force or force that causes serious injury. The city attorney also has the right to send a staff attorney to the scene. Chanin said damage awards for individual clients ranged from $10,000 to more than $525,000. The Berkeley lawyer said there were many factors — including whether the plaintiff spent time behind bars or was on parole at the time of the offense — that determines how much each victim will receive. At a Wednesday press conference, City Manager Robert Bobb tried to ease fears that the settlement would put further strain on the city’s pocketbook. Oakland city leaders have instituted a round of cuts to grapple with a $13 million deficit this fiscal year. Claudia Leed, a deputy city attorney who helped negotiate the settlement and who stood alongside city leaders at the press conference, is one of dozens of city employees who have been recently laid off. “Whether this is money from insurance or the general fund, this is money that could be better spent elsewhere,” said Councilwoman Nancy Nadel. “We hope that this will never happen again.” In December 2001 the city settled for $195,000 a separate suit that was filed on behalf of alleged “Riders” victim Kenneth Davis. And another case, Joseph v. City of Oakland, C02-1953, remains pending in federal court. Vernon Joseph alleges that he served more than five years in prison because one of the Riders officers, Francisco Vazquez, falsely accused Joseph of possessing a Tec-9. Another man confessed that it was his gun, but Joseph, who was on parole, went to prison. Joseph’s attorney has said that his client spent more time incarcerated as a result of misconduct than any other Riders plaintiff. On Wednesday, Russo said he expects the city will “pay nothing” to settle the Joseph case. Hall, the chief assistant city attorney, later explained that the city believes that there was a solid basis for Joseph’s arrest. Joseph’s counsel, San Francisco attorney James LeBow, could not be reached for comment Wednesday. It’s unclear what impact the settlement will have on the criminal case against the Riders. Attorneys for three of the four fired police officers, led by Michael Rains, of Rains, Lucia & Wilkinson, have argued that their clients were under pressure from police brass to clean up street crime. On Wednesday, Rains said he would not try to admit the settlement into evidence. “The problem is you can read it different ways,” he said. It could prove that his clients weren’t bad actors and that the problems were departmentwide. But a jury could also infer that if the city paid that much money, the criminal defendants must have been guilty of something, Rains said. Alameda County District Attorney Thomas Orloff said it’s unlikely the settlement would become a major piece of evidence in the criminal case. Defense attorneys could use it to discredit witnesses who will get damage awards, but rules restrict how judgments from outside cases can be admitted into evidence, he said. At the press conference, Russo stressed that city leaders were eager to put an end to a “bleak chapter” in its history. “We did not bury our heads in the sand and we did not wait for the Department of Justice to impose a consent decree,” Russo said. The scandal broke when rookie Oakland Police Officer Keith Batt quit the force in 2000 after working 10 shifts with a band of officers who called themselves the Riders. Batt’s revelations resulted in the firing of officers Charles Mabanag, Matthew Hornung, Jude Siapno and Francisco Vazquez. Mabanag, Hornung and Siapno are now on trial in Oakland before Alameda County Judge Leopoldo Dorado. Authorities believe that Vazquez has fled the country. The civil settlement, approved Jan. 22 by Judge Henderson, was kept under seal until Tuesday.

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