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Lloyd Marbet Is Not Alone

The Belmont Law Center Writes About the Recent Civil Rights Lawsuit Settlement
As you all know, Alan Graf, a number of other lawyers, and the NW Center for Constitutional Rights (Plaintiff's Lawyers) recently settled a civil rights lawsuit against the City of Portland for police brutality. As a result of that settlement, Alan on 2 December wrote a piece he posted here entitled "Fast Food Activism." The Belmont Law Center publishes here its response to that piece, and the settlement generally.

As you also may know, Paul Loney and Stu Sugarman, aka The Belmont Law Center, have been fighting for various lefty causes since attaining adulthood, in a variety of roles. Since 1992, they have been at the forefront of Green Party politics, run a state wide nonprofit environmental group, fought for legalization of marijuana, defended forests and the environment, and defended animal rights. The Belmont Law Center has defended or helped defend every forest protester, and then every Oregon protester, in criminal court since 1995.

We would like to make it clear upfront we are impressed with the commitment of time and energy by the Plaintiff's lawyers in this case. Only lawyers who have sued the cops and other governmental entities, as have we, can understand the immense amount of work that goes into prosecuting such a case.

In "Fast Food Activism," Alan writes "all of the Plaintiffs and lawyers, other than Lloyd, have committed to funding the Northwest Constitutional Rights Center, a project of the National Lawyers Guild." In fact, Paul and Stu are members of the legal team on this suit but have not committed to funding the NWCRC at this time.

Alan also writes "all of the guild lawyers who I have spoken with nationally, who have worked in mass prosecution of protest cases and who have sued other cities over protest violations tell me that if you keep hitting them in their pocketbook, again and again, they will change." We believe lawyers with a financial interest in the outcome may believe this is true, but we do not believe this is true for several reasons. First, some of the best trial lawyers in Portland for many years have made their living by suing the City of Portland and the Portland Police Bureau for money. These suits, which include suits on behalf of mass protesters, have not changed a thing. So what is the difference between their suits and this suit? Those other lawyers never promised to achieve an injunction, and were straightforward from the beginning about getting as much money as possible. Second, the amount of money awarded in this case is insignificant to this city, which has a budget of 1.73 Billion dollars (that's Billion with a B) and can tax at will to ensure it can meet its obligations. Third, if we are wrong and the city did become financially stressed by paying out a relatively small amount every 2.5 years, it would either raise taxes again or drop some important public service. Neither option is attractive to us or to Lloyd Marbet.

It has also been said that all lawyers were unanimous in favoring this deal. In fact, Stu and Paul were and remain strongly against this deal. The BLC informed Alan of its carefully considered opinion that the money offered might cloud Plaintiffs' Lawyers' ability to think clearly. We believe the City Attorney's office protected its client by employing its usual methods: First, exhaust the plaintiffs' lawyers until they would be significantly weakened without a substantial monetary settlement. Then, give the lawyers what the city could afford -- lots of money, and no meaningful injunction whatsoever.

We define victory differently than the Plaintiffs who settled and their lawyers. We stand with Lloyd Marbet when he says a monetary payout is not a victory. When there is a change on the streets, as there was recently in the civil injunction against cops in Oakland, California ending the use of pepper spray and other less-lethal weapons, that is a victory.

We continue to have high hopes for the NWCRC. The devotion of BLC's free criminal lawyers and the NWCRC's civil lawyers to winning substantial injunctions against cops at trial will help protesters take back our rights.

Those interested in protesters and the law should know something else. Since 1995, the BLC has used indymedia and protester-shot video tapes to win criminal cases at trial. Since 2002, Alan Graf has publicly and wisely sought videotapes from protesters as well. Even when the BLC shared the videos it receives from protesters with the Plaintiffs' Lawyers, the Plaintiffs' Lawyers did not share those tapes with us. As a result, 171 of the 175 Iraq war protesters' cases were closed before we received the tapes protesters gave to Plaintiffs' Lawyers. Alan has recognized this problem and has agreed to publicly ask that all protesters give their tapes to us for criminal defense first. In return, we pledge to promptly share those tapes with Alan's work on the slower developing civil cases. So Please Please Please, give us the tapes you record at protests so we can defend those arrested. We will then let Alan use them so he can sue the cops.


-- Stu Sugarman and Paul Loney, Belmont Law Center

In the Middle, for once 06.Dec.2004 19:18

gk

A radical leftie who works for peace and opposes violence, I stand in the middle of this issue for a change. Usually I'm so far left you'll find me in the field near the stands. I cannot see that monetary settlements are anything but necessary and helpful. The publicity showed protesters to be chanting; whereas, the police did the riot stuff. The City's settlement is probably paid by insurance. When claims become too much, they up the costs and/or cut the City, as they do individual policy holders. That could create problems for the City, and hence, they'd want police to behave so lawsuits wouldn't arise.

Not finalizing without a contract negotiated for change is holding ideals to the highest. I trust those making the settlement. I think changes will happen as a result, maybe not completely, but change over time, never-the-less.

I will continue to rally, march and vocally express dissent of the Iraq War. Following this political passion is foremost in my life. I always look for safety, and do not intend to place myself in a harmful situation. But if police don't allow our peaceful protests, I'll start carrying my contact lens paraphernalia, just-in-case.

to In The Middle 06.Dec.2004 19:44

just stu

Just two points:

1) The City is self insured, meaning the $ comes out of its own Risk Management Budget (the same budget the City routinely dips into to pay for your door when it breaks it down, or to pay multi million dollar settlements to shooting victim families).

2) Imagine how much coverage of bad cops we would have seen during an extended trial.

Stu and Paul 06.Dec.2004 20:35

Wallowed

I really appreciate what you guys are doing. Is Mr. Marbet proceeding? I hope so. Keep up the good work!

Timing is everything: use the settlement to push a bolder agenda 06.Dec.2004 22:29

ne1

In general, Sugarman and Loney might be right: It's more important to hold out for some concrete policy change than settle for mere pocket change from the city. In this case, though, the timing of this settlement could be used to great effect by civil libertarians in this city, and on a wider range of issues.

With a new mayor and new city commissioners in January, and with the upcoming resolution of the Multnomah County Supervisors condemning the "PATRIOT" act, activists will have a great opportunity to push for far-reaching policy changes. Now is the time to call for:

Withdrawing automatic police cooperation with the Secret Service. The city cannot afford the legal liability of writing a blank check for the current federal government's reckless contempt for citizens' rights to free expression (wave The Oregonian headline about the recent legal settlement). The Bush regime has shown repeatedly that it will not tolerate any visible dissent at any events attended by its henchmen, and will suppress the same at every opportunity, nevermind the legal niceties of the matter. Any request for local police assistance from the feds will have to be reviewed directly by an oversight commission of local elected officials, and detailed protocols negotiated in advance to protect civil liberties, and the bill for their services presented in advance. If the feds don't like it, let them use their own goon squads. No more PPB officers pepperspraying babes-in-arms!

Revoking the franchise of the Joint Terrorist Task Force. The FBI, with its sloppy, incompetent, politically motivated prosecutions has repeatedly shown that its activities are far more likely to result in fishing expeditions that endanger the rights of law-abiding citizens than nabbing elusive terrorist bogeymen. (Cite Mayfield, et al.) Let the JTTF be commissioned strictly on a case-by-case basis. If the feds really have a credible case and a need for local assistance, they shouldn't mind submitting to oversight by local elected officials in advance. No more Red Squads!

Forming a special Citizens Review Board for federal law enforcement issues. The current federal regime has shown by its repeated abuses that it cannot be trusted with our civil liberties. Let the city create a Citizens Review Board for reviewing evidence of civil liberties abuses by federal officials against local citizens. The board would be empowered to recommend that the city intervene as appropriate in defense of its citizens (e.g., amicus briefs).

Thank You 06.Dec.2004 22:41

For the Insight

I love Alan for being a tool in the fight against injustice. And I thank you for also being extremely helpful tools. May we learn to use all the tools in the box.

This is why indymedia is such a great resource 07.Dec.2004 10:27

fan

Nowhere else can one learn of the intricate details and complexities involved in such an important issue. Having read all the relevant articles, I can only say thank you from the bottom of my heart to Alan, to Stu, and to Paul. Your methods may differ, but you've all got our backs. Thanks.

agree with "fan" 07.Dec.2004 10:40

another reader

we've all gotten much better insight about this story from the people involved by reading indymedia than we ever would've gotten from some dumb Oregonian article.

Yeah 07.Dec.2004 11:20

and...

I appreciate that each side has been able to declare their differences without attacking eachother and creating general discord.
Thanks guys for passionately and patiently having our backs, even when we're being panicked, confused, and misunderstanding the process, we love you!!!

Hey, let's not forget 07.Dec.2004 13:01

Salamander

I see both sides in this issue and would personally have preferred some concrete policy change. (then again, I didn't have to pay and work hard on the case etc so I don't feel entitled to much of an opinion)

What really pisses me off is the attitude of the city and the police. I listened to the city council meeting where the settlement was approved. Chief Foxworth went on about how the police are doing better, blah blah blah, community policing blah blah blah

Any police force that cannot just apologize when it pepper sprays babies for no reason at all, should be ashamed to use the term community policing

Fuck the Portland Police. They are not a part of the community. Community members apoligize to each other when they screw up.

You too Vera! Shame on you for not having the integrity to apologize as police commissioner. Katz and Foxworth and their obvious unrepentent attitude shows that they have learned nothing. Neither of you deserve respect because you clearly cannot give it.

diff'rent strokes 07.Dec.2004 16:46

for diff'rent folks

In this area there is no end-all Victory with a capital "V". There are small and large victories that create positive change. Change is immediate with an injunction and sometimes with large monetary awards. Change can also be found down the road a piece with smaller awards or criminal defense victories. I don't know what effect this lawsuit/monetary settlement will have, but in the final analysis this is a clear victory that will help the cause.

It is also important to understand that, by law, plaintiffs decide whether or not to settle, not lawyers. While the lawyers may have had some influence on the final decision, the plaintiffs had the last word. And one cannot fault the plaintiffs, without knowing their individual needs or life-situations, for having motivations other than systemic change in the police force.

Finally, it saddens and irritates me that the plaintiffs and the plaintiffs' attorneys are being hammered from all sides. The mainstream Oregonian chastised them for pocketing the city's money. The progressive (and awesome) Belmont Law Center chastises them again here, essentially for doing the same. I, for one, commend the plaintiffs and their attorneys for taking on the powers-that-be and holding them accountable -- and I have no qualms about the terms of accountability.

A hollow victory, but Mr. Graf sure made "change" 11.Dec.2004 13:17

casual observer

A primary criticism leveled at the plaintiffs' lawyers from the very beginning in this suit was that they were in this just for the money. Maybe they were, maybe they weren't. Not my call there. But the ultimate settlement sure makes it look like they were. Settlements like this one give attorneys in general a big black eye in the public perception.

As I see it, there has been no meaningful repercussion for the city here. The money, as far as the city is concerned, is ridiculously trivial. The city probably spends more money sweeping leaves off the steps of city buildings each year than it spent to sweep this nuisance away. Now you've got them running scared! And although the plaintiff's lawyers have snorted and protested and made a general ruckus about how they were going to cause some real "change" to be made, the only "change" they made here is some serious pocket change for Mr. Graf. I lack the detailed info to make a firm conclusion on the matter, but it appears Mr. Graf will be making some serious "change" in terms of his legal fees, plus he apparently has convinced the plaintiffs to give even more "change" to him, as they appear to have agreed to give part or all of THEIR funds to Mr. Graf, to fund Mr. Graf's NWCRC. Sure, one can pick nits here, and try to call the NWCRC by the name NWCRC, but everyone knows it is just a room in Mr. Graf's office, staffed by, umm, Mr. Graf. Congratulations, Mr. Graf. This really is some real change--just not the kind of change the REAL civil rights advocates like Stu and Paul had in mind when they agreed to help pursue this matter.

Response to "casual observer" 14.Dec.2004 11:27

get real

Casual Observer's post (above) is uninformed and just plain off the mark. The attorneys who worked on the case were dedicated to a cause and spent hundreds and hundreds of hours working on the case with no guarantee that they would see a single dime in the end. That's why most lawyers don't touch cases like this with a 10-foot pole -- it's just too risky. The attorneys here took a huge risk, worked their butts off, and in the end helped the plaintiffs score a significant victory.

Also, Diff'rent Strokes post (above) correctly states that the plaintiffs, not lawyers, decide how a case will resolve. In the end, the plaintiffs sign off on the settlement, not the lawyers.

Kudos to the plaintiffs, the attorneys, and the NWCRC. We need more folks like them.

Casual Observer knows the score! 14.Dec.2004 11:39

another observer

Casual Observer correctly pointed out how the NWCRC is just Alan's alter ego. Casual Observer also correctly pointed out that the only thing the lawyers achieved was getting rich quick. Now what do the lawyers promise to do? Continue to get rich quick by suing for more money! Oh boy! No wonder why so many lawyers make their living by suing cops!

ignorance... 14.Dec.2004 14:02

get real

Observer: check your facts before you spout off.

1) the lawyers will hardly "get rich" here -- they will likely get paid for the hours they worked. That's it. And they almost certainly would have made more money by taking other, easier and more profitable cases. And it wasn't "quick" -- they worked for months and months for hundreds of hours to hold the city accountable. Further, by all accounts, the lawyers involved will donate much of their earned attorneys fees to the NWCRC so it can do more work -- which hopefully will include police policy advocacy and education efforts so this type of situation doesn't happen again.

2) Your comment "no wonder why so many lawyers make their living by suing cops" has no factual basis. As anyone who has been abused/harassed/wronged by a police officer knows, it is almost impossible to find a lawyer to represent you in a civil lawsuit -- especially if the injured person can't afford thousands of dollars in court costs. This, because: 1) it costs a huge amount of money to bring such a suit forward; 2) the city and the police department fight very, very hard to defend such suits; 3) juries' sympathies often lie with the police, making such cases difficult to win; 4) federal lawsuits are very complicated and time-consuming -- there are all kinds of reasons for a lawyer not to take a police case. And, in the very, very rare instance when they win a case, as they did here, they get hammered from all sides (see, for example, many of the above posts).

First the police abused the protester/plaintiffs. Now folks are abusing/bashing the plaintiff's lawyers for taking the case and obtaining a great result -- a result that the plaintiffs signed off on and approved. Keep it up and there will be no progressive lawyers taking police abuse cases -- and the police will feel justified in future abuse.

get real must learn how the system works 14.Dec.2004 19:23

another observer

1. These lawyers will charge hundreds per hour for their time -- hundreds! The attorneys will split fees totalling over $200K for relatively little work -- no trial prep! The NWCRC, as casual observer pointed out, is Alan's alter ego. Money to NWCRC = money for Alan and his good works as he sees fit, but is not money for good works out of Alan's control. As you said, one can only hope the money will go in the right direction.

2. Spencer Neal. Len Berman. Barry Engle. Just to name 3. I think Greg Kafoury and Larry Sokol also sue cops. There are plenty more. Just call the state bar association to get more names. Where there's $, there's lawyers.

3. It's OK if you think $ means a win, we just disagree on that and always will. I just think a change in police behavior means a win.

Oh its an ego alright 15.Dec.2004 08:03

Slow Food Activist

I agree with Casual Observer and Another Observer. It is well known on the streets now that Alan only takes the "High Profile" protester cases (with video of course. We all know Stu and Paul are the go to guys for us. Exactly how many civil rights cases has he taken? I don't think the NWCRC is his alter ego, I think its his huge ego.

I would be interesting to see a show of hands by the entire "Northwest" NLG body of attorneys who agree with this use of the Plaintiff's money. I've seen what the cops do to protesters time and time again. Its ugly and its got to change. But, to use the Plaintiff's money to further a personal agenda is just plain wrong. Especially since Alan's getting a hefty fee of his own. Use your own damn money Alan.

By the way, I am proud of Lloyd Marbet for taking the stand he took here. Lloyd is no dummy. He's been around the block a few times. He's very familiar with the legal world. I trust that what he saw going on was not right. And maybe slightly unethical? It appears to me that Alan got what he wanted but did Lloyd?

great discussion 15.Dec.2004 09:49

recovering lawyer

This set of posts is why I love Portland Indymedia... You don't get this kind of discussion anywhere else. I'll add two responses to the "observer" comments:

One, as a 'recovering lawyer' I can speak to how the system works. It's my understanding that the lawyers did far from, as you put it, "very little work." Evidently, they wrote briefs, did legal research, interviewed witnesses, viewed hundreds of hours of video, took depositions, appeared in court, and ultimately put in possibly thousands of hours of work on the case. From what I know the lawyers did a hell of a lot of work. Plus, if they're getting fees awarded by the court, a JUDGE will have to examine every single hour and agree that the work was appropriate for fees -- and agree that the hourly amount billed is reasonable for each attorney, depending on skill level, experience, and the rate usually charged in this type of work. It's no arbitrary jackpot -- it's like pulling teeth to get fees from the court. It's not as simple as the "observers" suggest.

Two, sure "observer" mentions some lawyers who do police cases, but they're a super small majority of lawyers and they pick and choose their cases like almost all lawyers. Most police cases can't land a lawyer because there aren't enough lawyers that take on this kind of work.

Three, I don't know if Graf has a big ego. I do know that we need more folks to work on police accountability. I hope the NW Const. Rts. Ctr. or Graf, or whoever, follows through with the promises to use the donated money wisely. There's got to be a place for Stu, Paul, Lloyd and Graf in this fight.

Four, in addition to the money settlement(which is obviously a "win"), there is also the not-so-small issue of the public opinion win. Everyone who's heard or read about the case now understands that the police screwed up big time. That has to help with police accountablity fights in the future.

Five, this discussion rocks. Accountability is important whether you're talking about the police or the lawyers fighting against bad police acts. Just don't let criticism bleed into demonizing good lawyers or activists trying to do good work. "get real" is right when he says we run the risk of turning off people trying to do good work.

Oregon State Bar and Alan Graf...word for word copy from copyrighted book 22.Jan.2006 10:31

eagle eye yurshame@yahoo.com

Did you see this? Everyone is talking about it.  http://www.disabilitybenefitsnw.com/disability/copyright.htm