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G-20 summit protest groups sue PIttsburgh for legal fees

By Adam Brandolph

Six activist groups that successfully sued the city after being denied protest permits before the G-20 summit filed a federal lawsuit Friday seeking to have Pittsburgh officials pay their $127,000 in attorneys’ fees.

“The city pushed us to the point where we needed legal counsel,” said Francine Porter, coordinator of the local chapter of Codepink Women for Peace. "I think everyone in the city should be mad about it, but point the blame where blame lies: from (Mayor Luke) Ravenstahl all the way to (Pittsburgh police Chief) Nate Harper.

“The taxpayers should be upset, but not at our group. … Be upset at Mayor Ravenstahl for not doing the right thing and not being transparent. Now they’re being made accountable at the taxpayers’ expense.”

The Sept. 24-25 summit at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center attracted thousands of protesters and reporters. Police arrested nearly 200 people as thousands of demonstrators marched the streets. Protesters clashed with police in Lawrenceville and Oakland, causing about $50,000 in property damage.

“This is something that needed to be thought through when the city accepted the invitation for the G-20,” Councilman Doug Shields said. “I’m not going to fault the mayor and the county executive for accepting the invitation — many people felt it helped the region — but it’s certainly set the city up for things like this.”

State and federal government officials pledged $14.3 million to cover summit costs but have not produced the money, city officials said. City taxpayers are on the hook for nearly $6 million for security, catering and a private insurance company, records show.

It is unclear whether Aon Risk Services, a Downtown firm to which the city paid $3 million for insurance, would cover the cost of the attorneys’ fees. Aon officials could not be reached for comment.

Mayoral spokeswoman Joanna Doven declined to comment.

Codepink, Three Rivers Climate Convergence, Thomas Merton Center, Pittsburgh Outdoor Artists, Bail Out the People and G6 Billion Journey and Witness are seeking reimbursement.

Attorneys Jules Lobel of the Center for Constitutional Rights, Michael J. Healey and Glen Downey of the Downtown law firm Healey & Hornack and Witold “Vic” J. Walczak and Sara J. Rose of the American Civil Liberties Union billed for nearly 300 hours at $225 to $450 an hour.

“We live in a democracy that supports free speech, but the city used every means to deny us our rights. We felt suing for attorneys’ fees was the only way we could fight back,” said David Meieran, an organizer for Three Rivers Climate Convergence.

Marie Minor, 60, of Oakland said she doesn’t think her tax money should pay for legal fees others racked up.

“I thought the government was supposed to reimburse us all along,” Minor said.

Source: http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/news/pittsburgh/s_664841.html