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Federal Judge Gordon Thompson Jr. today ordered the city of San Diego to pay nearly $1 million in legal fees to James McElroy, an attorney who has been fighting the city on the Mount Soledad Cross.

McElroy said today that he had offered the city a settlement for his legal fees several times, including as recently as two weeks ago.

“I said to them, ‘Look, it looks as if the judge is ready to offer me the fees.’ But they rejected it and now they’re having to pay more,” McElroy said.

McElroy was also awarded a “multiplier” of two on his fees, he said, because he took on a case that was unpopular and put his personal safety at risk. The attorney said he had asked for a multiplier of three.

City Attorney Mike Aguirre could not be reached for comment.

Pam Hardy, spokeswoman for Council President Scott Peters, who has been vocal in his opposition to the city’s legal support of the cross, issued a statement via e-mail.

“One year ago, Mr. Peters, along with Councilmembers Atkins and Frye, voted against the appeal of this case. Today the City is on the hook for almost $700,000 in additional legal fees. That’s an unfortunate end to a long and costly case,” Hardy’s statement said.

If the city is to lose almost $1 million in fees to McElroy, however, it may be able to recoup that amount in a separate case.

Aguirre is seeking close to $1 million in attorney fees from the Police Officers Association after a federal judge slashed most of the union’s sprawling lawsuit last week.

The POA sued the city, several of its officials and the pension board in 2005, claiming officials threatened to take certain retirement benefits away from officers in retaliation for refusing to a one-year labor deal that year.

You can read the entire 71-page decision by Judge Marilyn Huff here.


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