L.A. asks high court to reverse fee award in homeless case

City of L.A. asks U.S. Supreme Court to strike down $700,000 award to attorneys for homeless people

The city of Los Angeles has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a $700,000 fee award to lawyers for skid row homeless people who successfully challenged a ban on sleeping in the streets.

The city, in a writ filed to the high court Wednesday, argued the case was resolved by a private settlement, not a court judgment, and therefore the award was improper. Attorney fees generally go to the winning party in a lawsuit.

With interest and other charges, the fees could top $1 million, a heavy burden for the city "with its precious resources already stretched to their limits and with the citizens of the City of Los Angeles enduring reductions in the most basic services," attorneys for the city said in their legal papers.

Civil rights attorney Carol Sobel, one of the homeless people's lawyers, said she had no comment.

The appeal stems from a 2003 lawsuit filed by six skid row homeless people who claimed they were forced to sleep on the sidewalks because the city provided no other shelter. 

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the city's ordinance against camping out in the street violated the 8th Amendment barring cruel and unusual punishment.

While the city was appealing that decision, it reached a settlement with the homeless individuals. Under the settlement, the city promised to quit arresting people sleeping overnight on the sidewalks until it could provide 1,250 new units of supportive housing for homeless people.

The federal appeals court subsequently vacated its opinion, but a District Court awarded the plaintiffs' lawyers fees, the city said. The award was later affirmed by the federal appeals court. 

Follow @geholland for news about homelessness.

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