Los Angeles County - Men's Central Jail

The front of the L.A. County Men’s Central Jail is shown. Lawsuits involving the Sheriff’s Department, which runs the county jails, contributed to a dramatic increase in the county’s legal costs in 2015. (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)

Abby Sewell
January 15, 2016

Los Angeles County’s spending on lawsuit-related attorney fees, settlements and judgments rose 24% last year — an increase driven largely by litigation against the Sheriff’s Department.

The county’s litigation expenses totaled $118.9 million in fiscal year 2014-2015, up from $95.6 million the fiscal year before and from the previous five-year average of $105.2 million, according to an analysis released Wednesday by the County Counsel’s Office.

The amount includes $59.9 million in judgments and settlements as well as $59 million in costs and fees for private attorneys and some in-house counsel.

Hilda Solis, chair of the Board of Supervisors, said in a prepared statement that the increase is “an urgent call for introspection and action.”

She added that she was “particularly concerned” with the costs of defending the Sheriff’s Department in excessive force and officer-involved shooting cases.

“Every cent the county spends on litigation is precious funding that we cannot use to house the homeless, promote better health and wellness for children, upskill our workforce, and provide countless other needed services to our communities,” Solis said.

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The Sheriff’s Department has historically accounted for the largest share of the county’s lawsuit costs. Last year, those expenditures jumped from $40.7 million in 2014 to $61 million, according to the analysis.

The county was on the hook for several large settlements and judgments that involved shootings by sheriff’s deputies and deaths in the jail system.

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