The cost of the City of Seattle's legal squabble with the publishers of the yellow pages phone books goes far beyond the $500,000 settlement reported by the Seattle Times. First brought to light by a public records request launched by Jeff Reifman - the self-described "serial entrepreneur and software industry project manager," not to mention journalist - dating back to 2011 the city has doled out $264,503 in outside counsel fees to Summit Law Group, all of it related to the yellow pages lawsuit. Add this to what the City Attorney's Office confirms was a $517,000 settlement in the case, and it brings the total cost for the city to at least $778,503.
As Reifman notes on his blog, this total does not "account for the city's own in-house legal/oversight" - meaning the total cost, for all intents and purposes, is even more.
When contacted, the City Attorney's Office confirmed Reifman's findings, providing Seattle Weekly with the same rundown he's posted on his blog (see below):
"The City got a good rate from Summit, compared with what the industry attorneys were paid," says Kimberly Mills, a spokeswoman for City Attorney Pete Holmes. "This area of the 1st Amendment - commercial speech - is highly specialized and to have the best chance possible, the City needed outside counsel with a very high degree of expertise in this field."
Mills goes on to breakdown some of the costs associated with the phone book lawsuit settlement. She says the $517,000 settlement included $400,000 for the phone book industry's attorneys, and the remaining $117,000 went to "reimburse the yellow pages folks for the 14 cents a book fee the City had put in the ordinance."
In 2010, an effort spearheaded by councilmember Mike O'Brien created an opt-out system for Seattle residents who didn't want pointless phone books delivered to them. It also instituted a charge to companies that deliver the phone books for unwanted directories that found their way to recycling center.
As the Seattle Times reported:
Local Search Association, an industry group representing three yellow pages publishers, sued, arguing that the city unconstitutionally restricted its right to publish its books. A federal district court judge in Seattle sided with the city, saying government had a legitimate interest in wanting to reduce waste and prevent unwanted books from being deposited on private property.
But a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit, generally a left-leaning court, sided with the yellow-pages publishers, ruling that they are protected, like other publications, by the First Amendment.
Perhaps explaining his interest in digging into the matter, Reifman writes on his blog: "I believe the Court of Appeals decided this case on the wrong basis and issued an obtuse, narrow-minded ruling. I'd personally be happy to have the city spend my tax dollars on a broader appeal."
Below you'll find the final settlement reached between the City of Seattle and phone book publishers. It doesn't include the $264,503 paid to Summit Law Group.