Oakland pays $13.4 million to lawyers defending city in Ghost Ship lawsuit

Records show Oakland shelled out nearly $13.4 million to lawyers defending the city in the Ghost Ship civil lawsuit.

Invoices sent by outside law firms to the city of Oakland were first uncovered by the East Bay Times through a public records act request. KTVU also reviewed those documents to verify the expenses.

The more than 27,000 hours in billed legal fees are in addition to the $33 million settlement with families of the 36 people killed and a severely hurt survivor in the December 2016 fire during a party and music event at the Ghost Ship warehouse.

The cause of the fire at the artists’ collective has never been officially determined and the warehouse owners were never criminally charged. 

Master tenant Derick Almena accepted a plea deal in January and was sentenced last week to 12 years in prison. He’s not expected to return to jail because of credit for time served and good behavior. A restitution hearing is set for late April.

Victims’ families and Almena’s legal defense often blamed the city for allowing unsafe buildings to go unchecked.

Attorneys representing the city were regularly in attendance at the first criminal trial that ended in a hung jury as well as further criminal proceedings. 

Many of their civil filings said the city had immunity for its failure to inspect buildings. However, it was later determined Oakland did have a responsibility ensure the warehouse was safe.

The Ghost Ship was not on the city’s fire inspection list, but well known to police and fire departments, based on repeat calls for service. 

Lawyers representing the victims’ families said they wished the city’s legal expenses would have compensated those families instead of being spent on defending itself in court.

It’s unclear if taxpayers will be responsible for the entire $13.4 million or if any of that expense will be covered by insurance. The city directed KTVU to file a records request.

Brooks Jarosz is an investigative reporter for KTVU. Email him at brooks.jarosz@fox.com and follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @BrooksKTVU