The LA CAN & Catholic Worker Lawsuit Has Cost The Central City East Association At Least $115,000 In Legal Fees And Costs (And How It Took Me Two Months Of Hardcore CPRAfaction To Discover This Fact)

Around these parts we refer to the California Public Records Act as CPRA, pronounced SIP-rah. The methodologies and practicalities of using CPRA are known as CPRAfaction, pronounced SIP-rah-faction.

You may recall that in March, the Central City East Association settled the momentous lawsuit brought against it by the Los Angeles Community Action Network and LA Catholic Worker.1 This was mere months after beloved Los Angeles gadfly Eric Preven and the incomparable ACLU of Southern California won a momentous decision in the California Supreme Court, which ruled essentially that once a legal case was finished the legal privilege exemption to CPRA2 no longer applied. No coincidences around here! So I fired off an email to Estela Lopez as follows:

Good afternoon, Estela, and happy Palm Sunday.

And congratulations on settling that 2014 lawsuit, namely LACW et al. v. Downtown Industrial District BID et al. (2:14-cv-07344-PSG-AJW). I would like to look at copies of all bills from all lawyers who worked for the CCEA on this case.

For the sake of efficiency, and in case you’re not already aware aware of this, here’s a link to an LA Times story on the recent Supreme Court decision declaring that once a case is resolved the bills become public records:

http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-court-legal-bills-20161229-story.html

As you can imagine, there was a lot of back-and-forth, with her mostly refusing to hand over the legal bills, until this afternoon, when she did hand them over. The full story of that, with bunches of emails and also a reasonable amount of CPRA nerdview, can be found after the break if you’re interested.

But here are the actual bills to CCEA from their lawyers, Hill, Farrer, & Burrill. I spent a little time adding up the totals and their total legal bills, costs and fees, seem to have come to $89,782.54 over the last three years. Add this to the $25,000 they agreed to pay the plaintiffs in the settlement agreement and their whole bill comes to $114,782.54. This is over slightly less than three years, and the BID’s annual budget is roughly $2,000,000, so it’s relatively not that much.

According to Estela Lopez in 2015 there are more than 2000 homeless human beings living in the CCEA’s territory. Thus this lawsuit cost them a little more than $57 per potential harassment victim. I’m sure this seems cheap at the price. Anyway, that’s the substantive information. Turn the page for the story of how I got my hands on it!

  • For the sake of completeness, here’s my original request, already quoted above.

  • Now, part of the settlement that CCEA reached with the plaintiffs is that the federal court that heard the case will supervise the performance of the agreement for four years. This is necessary to understand Estela Lopez’s first response:

    Pursuant to the Stipulated Judgment in LACW et al. v. Downtown Industrial District BID et al. (2:14-cv-07344-PSG-AJW), the court has retained jurisdiction for an additional four years. Thus, until the matter is finished, we believe that the case remains “pending” and the requested documents remain privileged.


  • I don’t know, maybe she’s right. However, a few days later I read something3 that gave me an idea for how to dispute her claim. Thus on April 25 I sent another email:

    Good morning, Estela.

    Please rethink your position. It’s arguable that bills for matters relating to the court’s oversight will be privileged, but, as the case itself is closed, there’s no chance that releasing (redacted) copies of your legal bills for the case itself will give your opponents an advantage in litigation. Preventing this is the sole purpose of the pending litigation exemption. As it does not apply, and as there is intense public interest in knowing how much CCEA paid to defend this case, the bills are clearly not exempt.

    Thanks for rethinking this,


  • I was more or less willing to leave it here, but, interestingly, on May 4 she emailed me in response:

    In response to your email of April 25, the information regarding how much CCEA paid for legal representation in the defense of the Catholic Worker lawsuit will be included in the March 5 request for Vendor Transaction Reports.4

  • Well, this gave me new hope. If she admits that the information I was seeking, in this case how much they actually paid their lawyers, is responsive to another request and isn’t exempt, then she has to send it to me in response to this request. And if there’s material in the bills that’s actually exempt then she can redact that. Off I sent another email, outlining this theory:5

    If you’re agreeing that it is not exempt, then, you are required to provide it to me in whatever form I request it. Like e.g. redacted bills from your attorneys.

    Since you seem to have admitted that the information is not exempt, please provide it immediately via these bills.


  • And what do you know?! She actually did it! Although, naturally, not immediately. She sent it along this evening, May 30, along with the following:

    Attached.

    Cordially,

    Estela Lopez

    Downtown Industrial District BID


  • And because I was raised up right by my Mom, off I sent this closing email:

    Thank you so much!

And that, friends, is the story of how I came to learn that this lawsuit, started in 2014 by the LA Catholic Worker and the LA Community Action Network, cost the CCEA $89,782.54 in costs and fees to their lawyers.


The image of Estela Lopez started out as the property of the Downtown News, then I made it my own and now it is ©2017 MichaelKohlhaas.Org.

  1. This lawsuit is, as I said, is immensely important to not just anti-BID theory but in the civic life of the City of Los Angeles itself. You can read all my posts about it here and also find tons of pleadings from it here.
  2. Which is deeply embedded in the law starting at §6254(k) on through to the evidence code in a section that I’m too lazy to trace for you.
  3. Actually a bullshit email from City Attorney flack Mike Dundas, making some bullshit claims about something or another, I think is what it was, although maybe not. One can only do so much research for these posts, you know.
  4. Friends, you’re going to be hearing lots, lots, tons, a bunch more about this March 5 request, but the story is not yet ripe for the telling. Stay, as always, tuned!
  5. Which I am pretty sure is actually true, but the courts are funny about trespassing on the attorney/client privilege. As much as I want BIDs and every damned government agency in the state to lay out their records openly before me, I suppose I can see the wisdom and sense in this. At least in the abstract, anyway.
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