Good story from John Lynch in the D-G this weekend on the latest in the legal battle between the city of Little Rock and reinstated police officer Charles Starks.
Starks’ attorneys last week filed a motion asking the judge to order the city to pay $34,452.30 for Starks’ legal expenses. The city responded with an argument that it should not have to pay — but if it does end up on the hook for legal fees, the city argued, the amounts that Starks’ attorneys are requesting are exorbitant given that the court did find some wrongdoing by Starks. (The city is already, I assume, racking up its own hefty bills from the Friday Firm, which is representing the city in the thicket of legal battles in this case.)
Little Rock Police Chief Keith Humphrey fired Starks last May for violating police procedure by stepping in front of a moving car in the course of a traffic stop of Bradley Blackshire in February. Blackshire was driving a stolen car and bumped Starks as he was driving slowly away despite Starks’ order to stop. Starks fired through the windshield, killing Blackshire. Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox reinstated Starks in a ruling last month (and later ordered the city to give Starks his gun and badge as part of that reinstatement). The city is appealing to the Court of Appeals.
Starks’ attorneys on Wednesday asked that the city be charged $13,675 for the work of attorney Robert Newcomb, who has billed 54.7 hours for the case in circuit court at a rate of $250 hour; $17,225 for co-counsel Lance LoRusso, who billed 68.9 hours at $250 per hour; $3,264.80 in costs for transcripts from a court reporting service; $50 each for serving a subpoena on Prosecuting Attorney Larry Jegley and serving a summons on Mayor Frank Scott; and a filing fee of $187.50.
In its response, the city’s attorneys argued in a filing on Thursday that the choice to award legal fees is entirely discretionary, but that even if those fees were awarded, they should be a significantly smaller amount. While Fox overturned the termination of Starks, they wrote, “in the Court’s own words, the discipline issued to the Appellant was significant. … it is evident that the Court believed that the Appellant was guilty of some amount of wrongdoing in the case and held him accountable for it.” Given that the city successfully proved that Starks should have been disciplined, they argued, it should not be on the hook for the full amount of legal fees requested by Starks, even if Fox ultimately ruled that his punishment was excessive.
Starks’ attorneys are also asking the judge to order the city to pay $28,178 to Starks in back pay and health insurance expenses. The city has not yet provided documentation on what is owed in back pay and the expenses to the court.