A federal appeals court rejected a legal appeal by the city of Spokane to reconsider a crucial ruling in a civil rights case brought by a large Gypsy family.
The ruling, initially handed down in December, means that certain Spokane police officers aren’t entitled to use qualified immunity defense in a $40 million civil rights lawsuit.
The legal technicality would have shielded many of the officers from potential civil damages for wrongdoing, and greatly reduced any jury award.
The ruling is the latest twist in the 11-year-old legal fight that started when police illegally searched the Spokane homes of two Gypsy families, looking for stolen jewelry.
A civil rights suit, filed by the Gypsy families seeking damages for police conduct, is pending in U.S. District Court.
Even before the appeal, the city took steps to assume the legal liability for the actions of individual officers involved in the searches, which were ruled illegal by the Washington State Supreme Court.
City attorneys James Sloane and Rocco Treppiedi had hoped to get the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco to reconsider its ruling.
In rejecting that bid on Wednesday, the federal appeals court also said again that the city must pay the legal bills associated with the appeal, including those of the families of James and Grover Marks.
Their legal bills related only to the appeal could approach $100,000, but haven’t been calculated, attorneys say.
“I think that this ruling means, not only to the Marks family but for the citizens of Spokane, that the day of final resolution is near at hand,” said Gregg Smith, attorney for the Marks family.
“The city’s options in this case are becoming increasingly narrowed,” Smith said.
The city attorneys were out of town Friday, and couldn’t be reached for comment.
They now could take the issue to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The federal appeals court ruling comes three years after U.S. District Court Judge Alan McDonald agreed with a city request to delay to civil rights trial while certain legal issues were appealed.
McDonald, the third federal judge involved in the case, is now in semi-retirement, but hasn’t reassigned the civil rights suit.
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