A single day of police activity in 2002 has cost the District of Columbia millions of dollars in litigation and settlements, including more than $2.6 million paid to date to private lawyers representing past and present police officials.
The city was sued in 2002 in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia over mass arrests during protests against the International Monetary Fund and World Bank in downtown Washington. For years, the District has footed the bill for private attorneys representing former police chief Charles Ramsey and Peter Newsham, an assistant chief in the Metropolitan Police Department.
A review of court filings in the still-pending litigation showed that since December 2006, the city has paid close to $1.5 million to Ramsey's lawyer, Mark Tuohey, a partner in the white collar defense and government investigations practice at Brown Rudnick. Most recently, the attorney general's office and Tuohey filed a joint motion on August 7 asking the court to approve an agreement for $31,976 in fees for work Tuohey did from April 1 through July 31.
Newsham's lawyer, Robert Deso of Deso & Buckley, started representing the assistant chief in late 2003. Deso has received approximately $1.1 million in fees from the city, most recently earning $61,128 for work he did between April 2012 and the end of January.
Tuohey declined to comment. Deso couldn't be reached.
Under the D.C. Code, the District is required to reimburse police officers and officials for legal fees if the city can't represent them against civil claims for wrongful arrest. In the Pershing Park case, potential conflicts of interest meant the city couldn't represent Ramsey, who retired from the department in December 2006, or Newsham.
A spokesman for the attorney general's office, Ted Gest, declined to comment on how the city determined fees claimed by private lawyers were "reasonable," the standard set out in the D.C. Code. According to consent motions seeking court approval of fee arrangements filed over the years, the attorney general's office reviews "monthly itemized statements of services, fees and costs for representation." According to filings, the city has also compared requested fees to the Laffey Matrix, a tool used across the country to determine appropriate hourly rates.
Tuohey and Deso tended to reach fee agreements with the city in two- to four-month increments, and the amount of fees varied from as little as $4,625 to as much as $128,080. In recent years, the consent motions didn't include details on how much work the lawyers did or how they broke down their fees.
From 2004 to 2007, however, Deso filed itemized billing statements with the court. As of March 2007, he was charging $325 per hour.
The city settled most, but not all, of the wrongful arrest claims filed after the 2002 arrests. In late 2009, the city reached an $8.25 million settlement that included about $2.5 million in attorney fees. The wrongful arrest claims have been put on hold in recent years, however, as the remaining plaintiffs and the city tussled over allegations that city officials mishandled, concealed or destroyed evidence.
U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan appointed U.S. District Magistrate Judge John Facciola to oversee an investigation into the evidence tampering allegations. Facciola heard testimony over the past year from a variety of city attorneys and officials, including police Chief Cathy Lanier and Attorney General Irvin Nathan. In recent months, the parties filed final briefs on the evidence issue.
More private lawyers entered the case in the past year during Facciola's investigation, but they've been working pro bono. Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale & Dorr partners Howard Shapiro and Jeannie Rhee are representing police department general counsel Terrence Ryan, while Natalie Ludaway of Washington's Leftwich & Ludaway is representing Monique Pressley, a former senior assistant attorney general.
A lead attorney for the plaintiffs, George Washington University Law School Professor Jonathan Turley, declined to comment specifically on the attorney fees paid by the city.
"There appears to be no one in the wheelhouse of this case who is willing to take responsibility for the violations or take another course of action," he said in an email. "Instead, the District continues to spend millions rather than commit to serious reforms or to hold officials accountable in the case."