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In the wake of the Riders case, a police defense fund hiked Oakland cops’ union membership fees by 9 percent in July — and those fees may rise again with the retrial, union and fund officials say. The union and the Legal Defense Fund disagree on how much the Riders case has to do with the increase. While the Legal Defense Fund says many factors led to the change, union officials say the fund hiked the fee in response to the police misconduct case. “Without a doubt � 99 percent of [the increase] is the Riders,” said Oakland Police Officers’ Association President Bob Valladon. “It’s like any other insurance policy. The more you use it, the more you have to pay.” This year, Alameda County prosecutors will retry three fired Oakland cops for allegedly using illegal tactics to cut crime in West Oakland, including kidnapping and beating suspects. A jury cleared the men of eight crimes but hung on 27 others. The defendants will be arraigned Feb. 10. The first trial, which was the longest criminal trial in county history, took more than a year to compete. The massive case detailed two weeks of alleged misconduct and involved several alleged victims. By the time the jury had begun deliberating, the defense had spent nearly $2 million, said lead defense attorney Michael Rains. In July, the Legal Defense Fund raised the monthly fee for each of Oakland’s 770 police union members from $33 per month to $36. The July fee increase gave the Oakland union sticker shock because legal defense costs, which are part of officers’ union dues, usually go up 25 cents or 50 cents per year, Valladon said. The Oakland Police Officer’s Association will absorb the increase, so its members won’t feel the increase in their paychecks. However, the association may eventually have to “cut something” in its budget if the fee keeps going up, Valladon said. While Valladon says that the fee increase was justified because Riders defense attorneys used it to mount a successful defense, he criticized Alameda County District Attorney Tom Orloff’s “political” decision to retry the case, noting that the retrial could lead to another increase. Orloff said the fee issue is something between “unions and union members.” He said the police union has not talked to him about the retrial. “I have known Bob Valladon for 20 years and he has never mentioned the Riders case,” Orloff said. The Legal Defense Fund says that the Oakland cops’ fees are only partially based on the Riders case. The Stockton-based fund is affiliated with the Police Officers Research Association and serves police personnel in 10 Western states, said Andy Schlenker, who chairs the fund’s board of trustees. Costs went up for many members because the fund is defending several high-cost police trials, Schlenker said, adding that attorneys’ fees and other legal expenses have gone up over the years. Schlenker emphasized that since 55,000 people belong to the fund, it spreads out the risk and expense so no police department is financially singled out for an expensive case. However, Schlenker said, a union will pay more if they are heavy users of the plan. Police union members with the plan pay anywhere from $12 to $38 per month, he said, with Oakland’s $36 per month being on the high end. Schlenker would not say how much the total Riders tab cost the group, but said that if it was funding “five or 10 Riders cases, we would feel the pinch.” “The Riders case was a bittersweet case for us,” said Schlenker, who is a Modesto police sergeant. While it was expensive, the fund was “proud to provide the best legal defense,” he said. Rains, the Riders defense attorney, said that he wrote an article for the Oakland police union newsletter last year warning members that their defense fund rates would go up after the Riders case. The defense team worked hard to ensure that money wasn’t wasted on needless expert witnesses or other “big buck” expenses, Rains said. Most of the legal costs stemmed from the time the three defense attorneys spent on the case. “We never spent money for the sake of spending money,” Rains said.

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