The city is paying $299,000 and has issued an apology to settle two lawsuits over the withholding of documents involving the contentious financing of the River Park Square Parking garage.
SPOKANE — The city is paying $299,000 and has issued an apology to settle two lawsuits over the withholding of documents involving the contentious financing of the River Park Square Parking garage.
The out-of-court settlement with Camas Magazine, publishers Judy Laddon and Larry Shook and former senior editor Tim Connor was approved 6 to 1 Monday by City Council. The lone no vote was cast by Brad Stark, who said the settlement would divert money that should go to police, fire and other services.
“The apology really sealed the deal,” Connor said.
Of the settlement, $152,000 covers potential penalties for which the city was being sued under the state’s public records act and the remaining $147,000 would go to pay the lawyers who brought the case, including the Center for Justice.
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Breean Beggs, a lawyer with the center, said the amount is believed to be the largest public records settlement in the history of the law, which dates back more than 30 years.
Late last summer the council rejected a $350,000 settlement officer.
The lawsuits stemmed from the city’s refusal to release 90 documents on the financing agreements for the $110 million garage, which was built in the 1990s to help revitalize the downtown area. City officials claimed the records were protected from disclosure under the attorney-client privilege.
It apology reads in part, “The city of Spokane acknowledges that it withheld as privileged in the River Park Square litigation documents that were not privileged. This was a misuse of the attorney-client privilege and a violation of the Washington State public (records) act, and the city of Spokane deeply regrets it.”
The documents have been released as a result of other lawsuits. Connor’s demand for compensation was rejected in Spokane County Superior Court, but the dismissal was overturned and the case was returned to the trial court by the state Supreme Court in August 2005.
Connor also won $113,000 from the city in a separate records case involving the garage.
The city in 2004 and 2005 settled most garage litigation by buying out garage bond investors and returning ownership to the mall owner, an affiliate of Cowles Co., which owns The Spokesman-Review.
At the center of the litigation was a $22.65 million community development loan guaranteed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Critics said the private-public financing arrangement was an inappropriate use of public funds intended for urban renewal, and investors who had purchased about $31 million in construction bonds brought a federal fraud complaint against the city.
Last year the city agreed to buy back the bonds for about $32.6 million, and ownership of the garage was transferred to the developer in exchange for promises to issue a letter of credit guaranteeing repayment of the HUD loan.