The city of Boise could see its tab for losing a lawsuit over housing for the homeless climb from $1 million to nearly $3 million once attorneys’ fees and costs are added.
A federal jury ordered the city to pay $1 million to Community House in September, after finding that the city discriminated against homeless women and children and retaliated against the organization when board members complained. Now the attorneys that represented Community House in the lawsuit are asking that their client be compensated for fees and costs — which they say total nearly $1.9 million.
Under federal law, the winner of a lawsuit can generally seek to recover attorney’s fees and costs from the losing side. The fees and costs have to be approved by a judge and they can be appealed, just like the verdict itself. But they can substantially raise the financial stakes for the losing party.
Attorneys for the city, meanwhile, have asked U.S. District Judge Candy Dale to issue a judgment notwithstanding the verdict — a legal move in which a judge can set aside a jury’s finding and issue a new verdict — or to hold a new trial. In the city’s motion filed Oct. 24, the city contends that the judge made mistakes during the trial and that the verdict wasn’t supported by the evidence presented in the case.
In Community House’s motion for attorney’s fees and other supporting documents, also filed Oct. 24, attorney Howard Belodoff said that he and several other attorneys and staffers with Idaho Legal Aid Services worked on the case over the past seven years.
“Given the complexity and difficulty of the issues, the appeals, the defenses raised by Defendants, the length of time it took before a jury heard the case and contingent nature of the case, few if any attorneys would have considered representing the plaintiffs who had no resources to compensate counsel or pay the costs,” Belodoff wrote in a court document.
Community House and the city of Boise worked together in the 1990s to build and run a homeless shelter and soup kitchen, funded largely through federal grants and private donations. But over time, the relationship began to unravel, and in 2003 the city began looking for a new organization to run the shelter. When Community House officials learned the city planned to partner with the Boise Rescue Mission — which houses only men — Community House filed a complaint under the Fair Housing Act contending that the move amounted to discrimination against the homeless women and children currently living there because it would leave them with no place to go.
The city of Boise officially entered into a lease-and-purchase agreement with the Boise Rescue Mission in 2005, passing an ordinance to make it a shelter for men only. Community House then sued in federal court, bringing a number of claims including discrimination and retaliation.
The city strongly denied those claims and the lawsuit eventually went to trial in August. After 11 days of testimony and arguments, the federal jury sided with Community House, finding the city violated the state constitution, discriminated against homeless women and children and retaliated against Community House.
The jury awarded the organization $1 million, which Belodoff said would be used to house and provide for homeless families, women and children.
After the verdict was announced, Boise city spokesman Adam Park released a prepared statement in which the city again denied any discrimination and said the $1 million award was without basis. The statement went on to note that even if the city were to fail in its efforts to overturn and reduce the damages, that amount would likely be covered by the city’s insurance policy and not come out of taxpayer funds.