SEATTLE - An appellate court has ordered lawyers for a Washington state county and its deputy sheriff to pay more than $56,000 in attorney fees and costs for filing frivolous appeals in a federal civil-rights case filed by the family of a man shot by a deputy while wielding a ballpoint pen.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sanctioned the attorneys for King County and Deputy Sheriff Cesar Molina after they filed multiple impractical appeals in a case filed by the family of Tommy Le, The Seattle Times reported Thursday.
Le, 20, who was under the influence of hallucinogens on the night before his high-school graduation in June 2017, reportedly ran at deputies who had responded to a report of a disoriented man, possibly armed with a knife or sharp object, authorities said.
Molina was the third deputy to arrive and, according to his sworn deposition and court documents, confronted and shot Le after he and another deputy unsuccessfully tried to incapacitate him with a stun gun. The King County sheriff’s office initially reported Le had attacked deputies and was shot in self-defense. An autopsy and investigation showed Le was shot in the back, court records said.
The sheriff’s Force Review Board concluded the shooting was justified. However, an external review found the investigation did not explore inconsistencies in the evidence.
Philip Talmadge, one of the family’s attorneys and a former state Supreme Court justice, on Thursday accused the county of filing the appeal to delay taking the case to trial.
"Hopefully, the county’s leadership and its attorneys will get the message that it’s time to resolve the case of Tommy Le’s unjustified shooting," he said.
King County has denied the appeal was a delay tactic and pointed out that the extra time gave Le’s attorneys an opportunity to add an additional negligent claim.
Under the ruling, the attorneys for Le’s family, Talmadge, Jeff Campiche and Philip Arnold would receive $56,752.60 for their work to oppose the appeals. Le’s attorneys originally asked for $87,000.
King County and Molina’s private attorney Timothy Gosselin must determine who pays what, because they are both jointly responsible for the full amount.
Gosselin did not respond to emails sent Wednesday and Friday seeking comment.
Emails seeking comment from lawyers in the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office Civil Division went unanswered. Casey McNerthney, a spokesman for King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg, said he reached out to the office’s Civil Division on Thursday but did not have comment.