Attorney fees may cost Seattle more than $1 verdict

SEATTLE — Attorney fees could end up costing the city of Seattle a lot more than the $1 verdict in a civil rights case concerning the police department.

Andrew Rutherford’s lawyers have asked U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman to approve attorney fees and costs totaling more than $419,000, in addition to the $1 that he was awarded after successfully suing Seattle police for holding him at gunpoint too long.

That amount is in addition to the $331,000 that the city has so far paid private law firm Stafford Frey Cooper to defend the officers, the Seattle Times reported. It could go up if the city decides to appeal the judge’s order concerning Rutherford’s attorney fees.

Kimberly Mills, spokeswoman for Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes, said Friday that “we’re considering our options,” including a possible appeal.

Rutherford had asked for $3 million in his initial claim against the city, but was awarded the $1 verdict by Pechman in June.

In her finding about attorney fees, the judge wrote: “This litigation has served a public good by airing a constitutional violation. Rutherford is thus entitled to a reasonable award of the attorney’s fees and costs that were incurred in prosecuting this matter.”

Jay Krulewich and Michael Kolker, the two lawyers representing Rutherford, declined to comment on the judge’s order.

The case arose from a 2007 incident in which rookie police Officer Jonathan Chin, who was off-duty, in plain clothes and driving his personal car, said he was cut off in traffic on Capitol Hill by a black Jeep that ran a red light. Dialing 911, Chin followed the car to a dead-end street in West Seattle, where he confronted three men standing outside the vehicle. Rutherford had been a passenger in the car.

Chin drew a handgun and ordered the men to sit in the darkened street while he waited for backup officers to arrive.

Rutherford claimed he and his two friends were ordered to sit in the street while other officers sped to the scene. Rutherford alleged a cruiser roared toward him, and out of fear he jumped up to move out of the way.

Chin and the other officers tackled him, he said. He suffered facial and head injuries that left him with more than $3,500 in medical bills, according to court pleadings.

The U.S. District Court jury did not award him damages for those injuries and found that the officers had not used excessive force nor unlawfully arrested Rutherford. The jury also cleared Chin and four other officers of allegations they used excessive force, but found that the detention went on too long, violating Rutherford’s civil rights.

The jury decided that Rutherford was not entitled to damages.

Pechman, in a rare move, reopened the damages portion of Rutherford’s civil-rights case and awarded him $1. The award allowed his lawyers to seek attorney fees from the city.

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