Legal bills climbing for Durham

Suits arising from the Duke lacrosse case have cost the city more than $700,000 so far

Staff WriterJune 7, 2008 

— The city has paid $731,680 so far in legal fees and expenses to defend itself against three civil lawsuits brought by former Duke lacrosse players.

City officials expect to be reimbursed by their insurance company for payments over $500,000, according to its policy.

The city is hoping to stave off a potentially devastating judgment that could reach into the tens of millions of dollars.

The lawsuits are now pending in federal court.

The city has cut checks to five different lawyers or firms representing the many city employees named in the lawsuits, said assistant city attorney Kimberly Grantham.

"Supervisory defendants" such as City Manager Patrick Baker and former Police Chief Steve Chalmers are represented by the firm Troutman Sanders of Atlanta.

Police officers David Addison, Benjamin Himan and Mark Gottlieb all have their own representation, for which the city is footing the bill.

And Reggie Gillespie, of local firm Faison & Gillespie, is representing the city as a whole.

The payments do not include money paid to the Washington firm Steptoe & Johnson, which is part of the city's legal team but is being paid directly by the city's insurer, AIG.

Grantham said the firms are offering discounted hourly rates.

"It's a significant figure," Grantham said Friday. "But it would have been much more had these attorneys not considered there are tax dollars in play and very generously agreed to work below market rate."

The most expensive case so far, at $471,286, is the federal civil suit brought by the three Duke lacrosse players falsely accused of rape and later declared innocent by the state attorney general.

David Evans, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann allege the city violated their constitutional rights by charging them with raping an escort service dancer despite no physical evidence linking them to the alleged crime and holes in the accuser's story.

They offered to settle with the city last year for a reported $30 million. City officials declined.

Another suit filed in December by three unindicted players, claiming infliction of emotional distress and fraud, has cost the city $233,697.

And the most recent case filed by 36 other unindicted players in February has cost $26,697.

Of course, the cases are nowhere near completion, so the firms will continue to bill the city, and the city in turn will continue to seek reimbursements from their insurer.

The city's insurance policy with AIG covers legal fees and settlement costs up to $5 million. Anything beyond that will be borne by Durham taxpayers.

As to the steep price, Mayor Bill Bell said Friday, "It is what it is. We're trying to do the best we can. We'll do what we have to do."

matt.dees@newsobserver.com or (919) 956-2433

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