Wednesday, July 17, 2002

City to turn over settlement money

$375,000 pledged and $225,000 still to be raised

By Robert Anglen,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Cincinnati officials have agreed to turn over $375,000 in privately raised money to lawyers who filed a federal racial profiling suit against the police department.

        And in a deal reached Tuesday, city officials also agreed to help raise another $225,000 in fees by February.

        The debate over how much attorneys were owed and who would pay them prompted a federal judge last month to delay a hearing and hold off on signing Cincinnati's landmark agreements between the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, the Department of Justice, the police union and the city.

        “We had to bend quite a bit,” said plaintiff's lawyer Al Gerhardstein. “This was a big issue. ... The court (U.S. District Judge Susan Dlott) told us that she had grave concerns about the agreement.”

        The agreements helped end a federal investigation of the police department and settle the racial profiling lawsuit. It provides for sweeping reforms of the police department and requires residents to help change community-police relations.

        Judge Dlott, who is overseeing the settlement agreements, Tuesday cancelled a hearing scheduled for Thursday.

        In a report filed with the court, lawyers for the city and the plaintiffs acknowledged that she does not intend to approve the settlement until the $375,000 is put into an escrow account.

        Plaintiff's lawyers say they are owed $600,000 for their work on the agreements.

        “There is a difference of opinion about what will happen if the pledge to raise private money fails,” Mr. Gerhardstein said. “We just hope the city accomplishes what it said it would do.”

        Mayor Charlie Luken did not return calls Tuesday.

        But the question over who would pay attorney fees has dogged the historic settlement since an 11th-hour compromise was reached in April.

        While city officials agreed to help raise the fees, they refused to spend taxpayer money to pay Mr. Gerhardstein and lawyers Scott Greenwood of the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio and Ken Lawson, a Cincinnati lawyer who represents a group advocating a boycott of the city.

        Instead, city officials attempted to raise the money privately, and so far have received pledges for $375,000, including $25,000 from former Cincinnati mayor and talk show host Jerry Springer. City officials will not reveal the other sources of money.

        Steve Sunderland, spokesman for a coalition of community groups that want to help implement changes required by the settlements, called the deal a good sign. He said it will allow everyone to focus on the issue of changing police-community relations.

        “It is a symbol of good faith,” he said. “A symbol that we are ready to do business.”


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