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Friday, September 25, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Judge authorizes $221,574 payment to Gerlach attorneys, witnesses

Taxpayers will have to dole out more than $220,000 to defense attorneys and expert witnesses who helped Gail Gerlach beat a manslaughter charge in an April trial.

A jury acquitted Gerlach of criminal wrongdoing after he fired a single shot that struck Brendon Kaluza-Graham in the back of the head.

Kaluza-Graham had stolen Gerlach’s work van and was driving away when Gerlach, a self-employed plumber, fired his handgun. He claimed self-defense, telling jurors that he believed Kaluza-Graham had a gun.

Judge Annette Plese signed an order authorizing payment of $221,574.42 to attorneys Richard Lee and Dave Stevens, as well as expert witnesses Gaylan Warren and Robert Smith. Under Washington state law, the jury’s finding of self-defense allows civil damages to be awarded to Gerlach to cover “reasonable” court costs.

Plese ruled that about one-fourth of the hours billed by lead attorney Lee were “excessive and not efficient.” She criticized Lee for drafting jury instructions just a few days after taking the case.

“In this case at first glance, the billing appears to be grossly inflated,” Plese wrote.

Reached by phone Monday, Lee said Plese had made “a very reasonable decision.” He defended what he called a normal work habit to look up potential jury instructions immediately after taking a case.

“I want to know what the state has to prove,” Lee said.

Stevens, who spent several months in Europe while the case moved toward trial earlier this year, was not awarded money for travel back to Spokane to work on the case.

“The Court is confident that there were many other highly qualified criminal defense attorneys in the Spokane area that could have co-chaired this case,” Plese wrote.

Stevens said Monday he was satisfied with the decision not to pay for his travel but objected to Plese’s decision not to pay an additional defense attorney, Teresa Border. Stevens said Border’s availability to vet ideas for trial was “invaluable.”

Stevens said he would be paying her $2,400 bill from his awarded fees.

Neither Stevens nor Lee said they were interested in appealing Plese’s decision.

Firearms expert Warren and use-of-force expert Smith were given about half of what they asked the state to pay, totaling about $13,500 for Warren and $12,800 for Smith. Both men were present for the entirety of the trial, which Plese called “unnecessary and excessive.”

Warren questioned why the Spokane Police Department did not finish what he termed a complete scene reconstruction immediately after the shooting. Smith testified that Gerlach’s demeanor following the shooting mimicked that of law enforcement officers who have used deadly force in the face of a threat to their lives.

The state’s Office of Risk Management will now set up a payment plan to reimburse the fees. That money is allocated from a state fund.

The amount awarded by Plese is roughly two-thirds of the more than $330,000 the defense team requested.

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