Editor’s Note: This is an installment in our occasional series, It’s Your Money, that looks more closely at public expenses that taxpayers may not realize they’re being asked to pay.
An ongoing discrimination lawsuit against the Honolulu Police Department could cost taxpayers upwards of $300,000 for the city to contract with outside attorneys.
On Wednesday, the Honolulu City Council is scheduled to vote on a series of resolutions that will allow the expenditure of $75,000 to each of four different law firms to defend officers who are named in the suit.
Hourly wages for paralegals and attorneys working on the case range from $85 an hour to $175 an hour. The price of the four contracts could also increase should the city decide it needs even more help.
The lawsuit was filed in February 2010 by three police officers who claimed they were victims of race and gender discrimination.
Sgt. Shermon Dowkin, an African-American, and Officer Federico Delgadillo, Jr., a Mexican-American, say they didn’t receive the proper backup during traffic stops, which put them in danger.
In some instances,the lawsuit alleged, the two officers were ignored when calling dispatch for cover. This was in addition to racially derogatory remarks allegedly made by officers ranking as high as lieutenant.
The third officer, Cassandra Bennett-Bagorio, a Caucasian, said she was retaliated against by the department when she supported Dowkin and Delgadillo’s claims.
She claims she was injured after getting assaulted in a bar when responding to a call. The lawsuit alleged she didn’t receive backup on the incident.
Honolulu Corporation Counsel has been handling the case ever since it was filed in federal court. Defendants named in the case include: the city and county of Honolulu, HPD, former Police Chief Boisse Correa, current Police Chief Louis Kealoha, Assistant Chief Michael Tamashiro as well as 10 others.
It’s unclear why the defendants need four separate law firms plus the city’s own legal counsel to represent them. City officials did not return phone calls seeking comment for this story.
The only reason the city has given for wanting to hire outside counsel comes in a motion in which Deputy Corporation Counsel D. Scott Dodd describes a mysterious conflict of interest between the city and those it represents.
“In an attempt to balance the clients’ right to confidentiality with the Court’s need to be apprised of the general circumstances of this matter counsel submits that some of the individual Defendants have stated that they wish to be represented by separate counsel, and do not wish to share confidential information with the City, or with the other individual Defendants.”
Dodd did offer to explain to the judge the specifics surrounding the conflict, but only if allowed to submit that information under seal.
You can read the latest complaint and the city’s response below: