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City Council takes up cost of Dept. of Justice talks

Copyright © 2014 Albuquerque Journal

Negotiating with the Department of Justice isn’t cheap.

Albuquerque city councilors today will be asked to approve an agreement that would allow their lead negotiator, Scott Greenwood, to bill up to $220,000 for work he has already done or will do by the end of the month.

Greenwood, a civil-rights attorney from Cincinnati, Ohio, is working as the city’s special counsel to provide analysis, recommendations and legal representation as a result of the U.S. Department of Justice investigation into the Albuquerque police force.

In a presentation to councilors last month, Greenwood said he has practiced constitutional law for 25 years. He now works with Tom Streicher, the ex-police chief in Cincinnati who was once his adversary. Greenwood said his and Stricher’s experience will help Albuquerque.

“The good news is, you are not alone,” Greenwood told the council. “This city is not the first to face federal intervention.”

Greenwood described himself as a “hard-core” civil rights lawyer. He is a national board member of the American Civil Liberties Union and serves on its executive committee.

A federal investigation found APD has a pattern or practice of using excessive force in violation of people’s constitutional rights. The DOJ and city are now in talks to craft a binding agreement outlining a series of reforms within the police department.

In an interview, City Attorney David Tourek said Greenwood’s work has been valuable.

“I think his experience and expertise have shown to be beneficial to this process in the early stages,” Tourek said.

Greenwood is working under a contract that allows him to charge up to roughly $70,000, Tourek said. It was signed April 11, the day after the Justice Department announced its finding.

The revised agreement would allow him to charge up to $220,000 total, for any work he’s done or will do through the end of this month. If councilors reject the contract, Greenwood will have to stick with the original $70,000.

There will have to be a new agreement to cover any work Greenwood does after July 1.

“It’s hard to predict how much it’s going to cost in the future,” Tourek said. The money is available through the city’s “Risk Management” self-insurance fund.

Tourek said he hired Greenwood after hearing about his work in Cincinnati, which also faced a federal

investigation. In that case, however, Greenwood sued the city of Cincinnati.

Tourek said he talked to people in that city, including a federal judge who presided over the DOJ case there, and “they all had indicated to me that he’d be beneficial to this process.”

Mayor Richard Berry’s administration, in seeking council authorization for the extra funding for Greenwood, said it would cost more to hire someone else. The DOJ negotiations “were referred to outside counsel due to the workload management, conflict of interest, and the special expertise of the firm,” the Berry administration said in a memo to councilors.

Greenwood said he would try to craft an agreement with the Justice Department “that’s not just punitive, but something achievable.”

“You’re in a crisis now,” Greenwood told councilors, “but the crisis can be fixed.”