Judge awards $1M in legal fees to activist who sued councilwoman

Image 1 of 3

Oakland City Councilwoman Desley Brooks 

OAKLAND (BCN) A judge has awarded former Black Panther Party leader Elaine Brown $1 million in attorneys' fees and costs for her successful lawsuit against Oakland City Councilwoman Desley Brooks for an incident in 2015 in which Brooks pushed Brown down at an Oakland nightclub.

After a trial in December, a jury awarded the 74-year-old Brown $3.75 million in compensatory damages for the incident at the Everett and Jones BBQ restaurant near Jack London Square at about 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 30, 2015, in which she and Brooks, 56, got into an argument about a public housing project in West Oakland.

In January, the same jury ruled that Brooks must personally pay Brown $550,000 in punitive damages for the incident.

In his ruling, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Paul Herbert awarded Brown $979,543 in attorneys' fees and $34,981 in other costs, which comes to a total of $1.014 million.

The Oakland City Attorney's Office didn't respond to a request for comment on Herbert's ruling.

Brown's attorney Charles Bonner alleged that Brooks, who was elected to the City Council in 2002 and represents District 6 in East Oakland, punched Brown in the chest with two fists and sent her crashing 
backwards head over heels over a stack of folding chairs.

Bonner alleged Brown landed hard, hitting the back of her head on a chair, and suffered a rotator cuff injury that required surgery and will affect her the rest of her life.

Bonner told the jury in his closing argument in the punitive damages phase of the trial that it should order Brooks to pay punitive damages "to make sure she doesn't do this again."

Bonner alleged Brooks has a history of assaulting people she disagrees with, citing two incidents at Oakland City Hall in which he said she pushed people.

In its verdict in the compensatory damages phase of the case, the jury found that Brooks attacked Brown without justification, that Brown had never threatened her, that Brooks was acting within the scope of her employment with the city and that her assault on Brown was an act of elder abuse.

Bonner said the city of Oakland's liability insurance likely will pay the $3.75 million in compensatory damages but Brooks will personally have to pay the punitive damages award.

It's expected that the city's insurance policy will also pay for the attorneys' fees and other costs.

Brooks' attorney Warren Metlitzky said in the punitive damages phase that Brooks doesn't have much money because she still owes $150,000 in student loans, has less than $5,000 in her bank account and only has enough money in her retirement account to pay her about $1,000 a month when she 

He said the incident was "a dispute between two strong and opinionated women" and said Brooks acted in "the heat of the moment."

Brown headed the Black Panther Party from 1974 to 1977 and served as an aide to Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson at the time of the 2015 incident.

Brown filed a report about the incident with the Oakland Police Department but the Alameda County District Attorney's Office decided in May 2016 not to file any criminal charges against Brooks

The city of Oakland has filed a motion for a new trial and Herbert is scheduled to hold a hearing on that matter on April 18.