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Santa Barbara Elections Lawsuit Settlement Includes $950/Hour Attorney’s Fees

With the district elections lawsuit settlement finalized, the City of Santa Barbara is writing a $599,500 check to the plaintiffs’ law firm, Cappello & Noel, for attorney’s fees and expenses that include a $950 hourly rate for lead attorney Barry Cappello.

City Attorney Ariel Calonne said he went to the firm’s office to review the bills and finalize the amount.

The case was filed in July 2014, but preparations for the case apparently began in 2013 — “much sooner” than people thought, Calonne said.

Cappello billed his time at $950 an hour, and other attorneys at the firm billed at lower rates, but neither Calonne nor Cappello would provide accounting details for the nearly $600,000 settlement of taxpayer money.

“Our fees and costs are attorney client matters; the city audited them,” Cappello said in an email. “They encompassed a period from early 2014 to last month and included fees from several lawyers and experts.”

Calonne has said that the decision to settle was partly a financial one, to avoid the additional costs of going to trial that could be in the range of $4 million.

Trial had been scheduled to start April 6.

About $500,000 of the settlement money will come from general fund reserves, and the city will pay more attorney’s fees for the plaintiffs after the maps are finalized and a judgment is entered in court.

The case alleges the city’s at-large City Council election system dilutes Latino votes.

Santa Barbara leaders agreed to implement district elections for the November 2015 council race, but keep the at-large mayor's seat.  

Santa Barbara has made an effort to make the map drawing process interactive with the public, and the proposed maps will be reviewed at a public workshop at 6 p.m. Wednesday at City Hall, 735 Anacapa St.

Fifteen maps already have been submitted to the city, and people can bring more maps and comments to Wednesday’s meeting, said Doug Johnson of National Demographics Corp., a consultant firm the city is using for the mapping process.

The three draft plans were presented as being drawn by the National Demographics Corporation, but Draft Plan 1 is actually a map submitted by the plaintiffs.

“At the time we posted it we weren’t sure if they were comfortable with us identifying it,” Johnson said.

That Draft Plan 1 was revised on Monday, per the plaintiffs’ request, but the only geographical change was to move one block and unite the Harding University Partnership School, so it’s not split into two districts, he said.

City Council members — two of whom will face this new system for re-election in November — will decide what district boundaries to approve and if plaintiffs agree, a judgment will be entered in court.

If they disagree, the court will hear the case to finalize the maps, according to Calonne.

Cappello said the plaintiffs have submitted some input to the city regarding the map.

“We will make our position known publicly at the March 18 public workshop,” he said. “There will be no surprises. We are interested in protecting the settlement agreement, which calls for two Latino majority-minority districts which meet the criteria of the California Voting Rights Act.”

The City Council will consider the maps and comments for a final decision at a March 24 meeting and, if necessary, a March 30 meeting.

Noozhawk news editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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