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Chief of Police Howard Jordan answers questions from reporters following a press conference to announce that the city of Oakland, Calif. will embrace a new community policing strategy to try to curtail the city's burgeoning crime problem, Thursday, Dec. 27, 2012 in Oakland. (D. Ross Cameron/Staff)

OAKLAND -- The city racked up more than $900,000 in legal bills during its recent fight to keep control of its police department, documents show.

Most of the legal costs are owed to the attorneys who asked a federal judge last October to take over the department, which has failed to fully satisfy court-ordered reforms that were supposed to be completed five years ago.

The city ended up striking a deal to retain control over most department functions while ceding power over the stalled reform effort to a court-appointed compliance director.

U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson, who is expected to name the compliance director as early as next week, had ordered the city to pay the attorneys' costs.

The City Council next month essentially will have no choice other than to pay $681,628 to attorneys Jim Chanin, John Burris and Julie Houk.

"It is what it is," Councilman Larry Reid said. "If I could get out of paying I would, but we have no other choice."

The city also has been billed $229,559 by the attorneys it hired to help it keep control of the police department. Several in-house city attorneys also worked on the case.

"While it's unfortunate the city is having to pay attorneys fees when we have many other fish to fry, it wasn't that the city had any other option given the court's order," City Attorney Barbara Parker said.


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Oakland has spent millions in recent years both to comply with the court-ordered reforms and in awards to plaintiffs and their attorneys who have filed lawsuits against the Police Department.

The city's finances have been strained for more than a decade, forcing staffing shortages citywide, especially in the Police Department. At Tuesday's City Council meeting, Mayor Jean Quan cautioned that preliminary budget projections showed the city likely won't have enough money to beef up police staffing as quickly as anticipated.

Oakland's police reform effort stems from the Riders brutality scandal, in which four officers were accused of framing and beating up drug suspects in West Oakland.

In settling a lawsuit brought by the accusers a decade ago, Oakland agreed to pay out $10.5 million, accept federal monitoring of the police force and implement 51 reforms aimed at helping the department better police itself and avoid further scandal.

Chanin and Burris represented the plaintiffs and continued collecting fees for work overseeing the settlement agreement. City documents show that since 2004, Oakland has paid Chanin $154,030 and Burris $85,000 for work connected to the case.

Burris said the two attorneys had been charging the city a reduced rate but that when it came to the motion for a federal takeover of the Police Department, they charged their standard rate, which for Burris is $750 an hour.

"That was known beforehand, and we don't view it as particularly high or outrageous," Burris said.

In filing the motion for a federal takeover last October, the attorneys argued that Oakland's failure to implement reforms risked the civil rights of residents and had made the city prone to costly lawsuits.

Most of the legal work, including depositions and research, took place in the second half of last year.

Chanin, who took a leading role, is owed $285,140; Houk, $252,603; and Burris $143,855.

Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435.