Oklahoma City on the hook for legal fees after Supreme Court rules against panhandle ordinance

Oklahoma Politics

OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Oklahoma City’s controversial panhandling ordinance is officially dead after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the previous unconstitutional ruling, and now Oklahoma City could be on the hook for over $1 million in legal fees.

After fighting in the courts for 5 years, the ordinance that some at OKC City Hall said was for public safety is finished.

But what will the City do about the bill for the legal battle?

“Not a surprise at all, we have believed all along that we were in the right,” said Civil Rights Attorney Joseph Thai.

Thai is part of the legal team that fought to overturn Oklahoma City’s controversial ordinance that prohibited people sitting or standing in medians.

After an initial victory for the city, the panhandler ordinance was ruled unconstitutional by 10th Circuit Federal District Court of Appeals.

That decision was held up on Monday by U.S. Supreme Court.

“It unconstitutionally restricted the rights of every Oklahoma City resident. You have the first amendment right to speak from public spaces and public medians are the heart of those spaces,” said Megan Lambert, ACLU Oklahoma Attorney.

After 5-plus years in the courts, now the City reportedly owes over $1 million dollars in legal fees to the plaintiffs and $250k dollars to outside attorneys it used.

“It’s really important that we hold the City fully and financially responsible. Part of the reason the City has to be on the hook is so that it can be deterred from violating the rights of Oklahoma City residents in the future,” said Thai.

We reached out to the City Attorney along with multiple City Council members that voted for taking the ordinance appeal to the US Supreme Court. Mark Stonecipher was the only one that responded saying he couldn’t comment on the pending legal fees but said,

“In the name of public safety, it is now time for us to revisit and revise the ordinance in line with the 10th Circuit’s decision.”

Mark Stonecipher, Ward 8

Reportedly, some City Council members said last week that legal fees they owe should be donated to help the homeless.

“If the city is worried about attorney’s fees, I would suggest they consider that before passing unconstitutional ordinances and before fighting to defend that ordinance for 5 years at every turn all the way up to the US Supreme Court,” said Lambert.

“The City should look inward, did it donate the fees from its own attorneys to homeless services instead? and I would imagine the answer is no,” said Thai.

The ACLU says once legal fees are recovered from the City they will consider donating some funds to homeless causes.

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