The city’s move to assume sole responsibility for fighting a $40 million Gypsy family lawsuit “makes sense,” says Spokane City Councilman Joel Crosby.
“It’s a real good decision on everybody’s part,” he said. “It’s a good deal.”
Crosby played a key role in negotiating an agreement between the city and Spokane County. The deal calls for the city to assume all liability and defense costs for the Marks’ civil rights lawsuit.
In return, the county will pay the city $390,000.
Crosby says the deal solidifies the legal fight.
“It gives the city more money to fight the case,” Crosby said. If the county “were to settle with the Gypsies, it would give them money, which we don’t want to do.”
Other officials say recent steps by the county to settle with the Marks family prompted the city’s quick move to take over the case.
Councilman Chris Anderson said the city feared its case would be weakened by a county settlement with the Gypsies.
The civil rights lawsuit remains in U.S. District Court, and the next hearing is set for Oct. 16 in Seattle.
A trial may still be years away.
While county officials contend the agreement is a done deal, city officials say it’s tentative.
Council members met in a closed-door session Monday to discuss the agreement, but made no public statements about what took place.
A day later, City Attorney James Sloane sent a letter marked “confidential” to county Chief Civil Attorney Jim Emacio, stating the “City Council formally ratified, in executive session, the terms set forth” in earlier letters between the two that discussed the agreement.
To Commissioner Steve Hasson, “That’s a contractual agreement.”
Sloane said Hasson misunderstands the letter’s intent. The agreement can’t be finalized by the city council until a public vote Aug. 28.
“Until that’s occurred, it’s nothing more than an exchange of correspondence,” Sloane said.
State law says:
“No governing body of a public agency shall adopt any ordinance, resolution, rule, regulation, order or directive, except in a meeting open to the public…”
However, Sloane said the council’s executive session Monday “was absolutely within the scope of their authority and within the provisions of state law.”
Council members Crosby and Anderson said all they did during the closed-door meeting was direct staff to draft the papers.
“A formal vote wasn’t taken,” Crosby said.
While the city may look like it’s “heading south on the agreement,” Hasson said he’s confident the deal’s been consummated.
“We’re getting out from beneath this risk,” he said.
From 1988 to 1995, Spokane County paid $425,373 to have private lawyers defend it against the Gypsy lawsuit.
The city is using its in-house lawyer to handle the case.
The legal battle between the Marks family and the city and county began in 1986, when police investigating a fencing operation searched the homes of Jimmy and Grover Marks.
Officers confiscated $1.6 million in cash and as much as $500,000 in jewelry, some later identified as stolen. A burglar later told police he sold stolen property to Jimmy Marks.
The raids were ruled illegal by the state Supreme Court. Jimmy Marks, Grover Marks, the Gypsy Church and 26 of its members then filed the $40 million civil rights suit.
The city plans to use the $390,000 it gets from the county to defend itself against the lawsuit.
If the city loses to the Gypsies, money to pay damages and legal fees would come from the city’s general liability fund. The city was self-insured at the time of the Gypsy raid.
There’s a little over $2 million in that fund, said Diana Levin, the city’s risk manager.
Jimmy Marks said he was thrilled that the city is now the sole defendant in the case.
Said Crosby, “We think they’re going to wind up with nothing.”
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