LIHI seeks reimbursement for legal fees in Harbor Inn case

— Created November 2, 2022 by Kathy Reed

By Kathy Reed

Island County Superior Court Judge Carolyn Cliff will decide this month whether or not to grant a motion by the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI) and LIHI Harbor Inn for reimbursement of attorney’s fees incurred in the recent legal fight over the sale of the Freeland motel.

LIHI is asking the court for reimbursement of more than $93,000 from the group Freeland Concerned Citizens and its attorney, Randal Thiel, and appeared before Judge Cliff Oct. 26, arguing the lawsuit against it should never have been brought.  Judge Cliff denied FCC’s request for a preliminary injunction in August and the case was dismissed without prejudice in September.

LIHI attorney Scott Pritchard told the court he was “disappointed” to be there and referred to the action filed by FCC and Thiel as “frivolous” several times, stating LIHI should never have been named in the suit, which sought to stop Island County from transferring a $1.5 million grant to LIHI to aid in its purchase of Harbor Inn. The nonprofit plans to use the motel for temporary and transitional housing.

“LIHI was named as a defendant in a lawsuit against a government entity,” Pritchard said. “LIHI isn’t a government entity.”

FCC attorney Randal Thiel, who appeared at the hearing virtually, claimed the compensation LIHI is seeking is unreasonable.

“The hourly rate they are claiming is excessive,” he told the court, adding he has a sterling professional reputation, having practiced law for 34 years. In his response to LHI’s motion, Thiel claimed his hourly rate is $375, while LIHI attorney Michael Rubin, with six years of experience, charged $410 per hour, and Pritchard, with 11 years of experience, charged $500 per hour.

“LIHI’s motion for sanctions in the amount of $93,438.60 is clearly excessive, unreasonable and inappropriate under Washington law,” read Thiel’s response.

Pritchard told the court the costs were warranted.

“It takes a lot of work to defend against such claims,” he argued. “There were a lot of moving parts to this claim, a lot of lawyers involved. There were a lot of assertions made but no evidentiary proof to back them up.”

The attorney for Island County, which was named in the initial FCC action, is not seeking any relief, although he clearly sided with LIHI.

“None of the claims by Freeland Concerned Citizens had any merit,” said attorney Peter Smiley. “LIHI came to Island County to do good. They incurred $100 thousand in legal feels for following the law and trying to help people.”

After hearing from the attorneys, Judge Carolyn Cliff told them she is taking the matter under advisement and will issue her decision within 30 days.