There is new talk of using mediation to end a Gypsy family’s civil rights suit against the city of Spokane.
U.S. District Judge Alan McDonald said he “strongly encourages” mediation to settle the case in a letter he wrote to the city and attorneys for the Marks family.
The attorneys for both sides said Friday they are ready to try McDonald’s suggestion to end the 11-year-old fight.
“We’re not objecting to a meeting” with a mediator, said Assistant City Attorney Rocco Treppiedi.
Attorneys Terry Thomson and Pat Stiley, who represent the Gypsy family members, said they’ve always favored mediation, but the city has balked at that approach.
“I think the city has been in denial,” Thomson said. “It isn’t until we get closer to trial that the city finally realizes this matter isn’t going to go away.”
Thomson said if the civil rights case goes before a jury in Yakima where the case is assigned, the city “faces the risk of potentially enormous damages.”
Members of the Marks family are suing the city and its police department for $40 million for damages stemming from police raids at two Gypsy homes in June 1986.
The Washington State Supreme Court said the raids involved outrageous police conduct.
In a letter to the parties, the federal judge recommends that U.S. Magistrate Judge Lonnie Suko conduct the secret mediation to settle the suit.
“The court recognizes previous efforts at settlement have failed,” McDonald wrote.
“Nevertheless, the court strongly encourages the parties to consider utilizing the mediation services of the magistrate judge.”
The federal judge recommended mediation after the federal appeals court ruling which held that police officers involved in the search couldn’t be excused from individual liability.
Those searched in the 1986 police raids filed suit in U.S. District Court in 1989, alleging their civil rights were violated.
Eight of those people now are defendants in a separate criminal trial that began Monday in U.S. District Court in Spokane.
They are accused of intimidating other members of their extended family who agreed to help the city defend itself in the civil rights case.
Various legal challenges and maneuvers have delayed the civil case for seven years.
In February, a federal appeals court rejected the bulk of the city’s latest legal challenge that attempted to excuse individual officers from liability and eliminate potential punitive damages.
The city has until mid-May to decide whether to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. The nation’s highest court only accepts a small percentage of cases it is asked to review.
In light of the appeals court ruling, the case now goes back to McDonald, who is expected to set a trial date for this spring.
Meanwhile, attorneys for Gypsy-family members are preparing to ask the city to pay at least some of their legal bills, now said to be approaching $2 million.
Because the plaintiffs prevailed in the appeals court, the city could be held liable for some of the costs.
The city also is responsible for its own legal costs in the case.
The city assumed full liability for the police raids after allowing Spokane County to bow out of the case after paying the city $390,000.
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