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The mayor of St. Louis last week criticized his alma mater, Saint Louis University School of Law, for starting litigation over the rights of the homeless in his city. The mayor, Francis Slay, noted that some critics have said the school filed the suit to generate fees, as well as work for its law students. The friction between the mayor and the school began last year with a lawsuit that was filed by the school of law’s legal clinics in conjunction with the American Civil Liberties Union and Washington University School of Law, also in St. Louis. The suit accuses the St. Louis police department of conducting an illegal “sweep” of homeless people during the city’s Fair St. Louis festivities in 2004. Chad Johnson v. Board of Police Commissioners, No. 4:04 CV 01266 (E.D. Mo.). As many as 70 homeless people were allegedly detained in violation of their civil rights, according to John J. Ammann, the director of legal clinics at Saint Louis. Lawyers recently amended the initial complaint to add 13 new plaintiffs to the original 13, bringing the total to 26. “These lawsuits are destructive because they make other possible partners in our effort afraid to get involved,” said Slay. “These lawyers claim to be helping homeless people. They are doing the opposite.” Mayor points to money The mayor said that some people believed the litigation was being used to generate fees or work for the school’s law students. “I am not going to impute such motives, but I am going to register my anger and disappointment,” Slay said. Ammann said the school does not have a profit motive. “We represent homeless and low-income people,” said Ammann. “Money is not why we bring these cases. We would much rather see the money go into better services for the homeless.” Ammann said that in civil rights cases there is a provision that allows plaintiffs’ lawyers to file for attorney fees, but added that getting paid is usually the last thing on their minds. “The city could have settled for 13 individuals but they waited too long, and now we’ve added 13 more,” said Ammann, who is asking for individual damages for each of the plaintiffs. The plaintiffs have alleged, among other things, unlawful arrests, fabricated charges and lengthy detentions in jail without efforts to obtain a warrant. A federal judge last October granted the plaintiffs temporary injunctive relief, finding that their lawsuit has a likelihood to succeed on the merits. The city’s lead lawyer, Carl W. Yates III of the city counselor’s office, deferred comments to the mayor’s office.

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