The City of Ithaca’s legal bills during its decade-long fight with former IPD officer Chris Miller reached over $1.3 million total before the city ended the suit by reaching a settlement with Miller in February.
Miller’s lawsuit began in 2010, but troubles between him and IPD began in 2005, when he claimed to the state Department of Human Rights that he was being discriminated against within IPD due to his gender and race. Miller is a white man. He was issued a “right to sue” by the Equal Employment Opportunity Center in 2008 because they determined that Miller was terminated as a result of his complaint to the DHR, a violation—but not necessarily that his claims of discrimination were legitimate.
Miller initiated the lawsuit in early 2010 after receiving the EEOC decision. From then until February, the city spent $1,333,116.44, mostly on legal fees. The city was also ordered to pay Miller’s legal fees for Rome, NY-based lawyer A.J. Bosman, which amounted to $534,124.59 and pay Miller $420,000 directly. Overall, the 10 year battle cost the city nearly $2.3 million, with an additional $1 million that was covered by the city’s legal insurance policy, according to City Attorney Ari Lavine. As part of the settlement, according to Bosman, neither party in the suit admitted wrongdoing.
The benefactor of much of the city’s spending is listed as “Stokes,” or the Ithaca-based Stokes Wagner law firm, which represented the city in the case, in an itemized spending document provided by the City of Ithaca in response to an Ithaca Times Freedom of Information Law request. Of the $1.3 million that the city spent, all but $110,000 went to Stokes Wagner. In 2019, the city also paid out nearly $40,000 to Dr. Liza H. Gold, a forensic psychiatrist, for expert services during their case against Miller, and about $5,000 more to Rochester law-firm Harter, Secrest & Emery to serve as co-counsel on behalf of the city.
Since 2010, the city spent an average of about $147,670 per year on the litigation: the lowest being $42,684.43 in 2018, and a peak of $280,103.95 in 2019, before the case was brought to a close. Previous judgments in the case had awarded Miller $2 million in 2012, before being overturned, and $480,000 in 2015, which was also appealed. The 2020 settlement brings an end to any pending legislation.
“This settlement was a business decision in the best interests of the City and its taxpayers,” Mayor Svante Myrick said in a statement on the settlement in March. “After nearly a decade of litigation including three federal trials and two appeals, settlement simply became cheaper than continued litigation that showed no signs of letting up.”