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City Attorney Wants to Sue Occupy L.A.

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The office of City Attorney Carmen Trutanich is considering filing a civil suit against Occupy L.A. protesters.

Protesters could find themselves on the hook for damage to city property, the costs of remediation and clean-up, lost business opportunities and the loss of film permits, according to Frank Mateljan, a spokesman for the City Attorney's Office.

"The City could potentially file a civil [suit] and attempt to recoup the costs for any Occupy LA-related damages caused by any responsible persons or entities," Mateljan wrote in an e-mail to LAist.

The Occupy L.A. movement is famously (or notoriously) leaderless, decentralized and, well, not rich. So it's not immediately obvious how the city would try to recoup money from protesters. There's one exception: any damages the city ends up paying out to Occupy LA protesters who sue the city. The Daily News reports that there are two suits filed in federal and state court by Occupy L.A. against the city (although it is not clear what the nature of these two suits are).

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Mateljan confirms that the city attorney would be taking a look at any damages paid out to protesters that prevail against the city: "In addition, in any civil lawsuit filed against the City, the City has the ability to counter-sue for any claims or damages it may have against the plaintiff."

If a lawsuit like this actually went ahead, it's an open question to figure out how blame for the movement's costs would shake out legally. Especially since the city's relationship to the movement has been complicated.

Here's a quick recap: In the beginning, Eric Garcetti told protesters to "stay as long as you need." The city council voted to support the movement. But early on, the Recreation and Parks started worrying about protesters destroying the lawn and it sent out several wildly varying estimates of how much it would cost to fix the lawn. After two months, the LAPD evicted the camp. In the week after the raid, press reports paid a lot of attention to the tons of trash left on the lawn. But at the same time, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa wanted to preserve some of what was left behind: his office wanted to preserve the mural left at the camp because of its historic importance. Villaraigosa said he supported the movement, but the city attorney's office wanted to offer arrested protesters lessons in the First Amendment (which struck some as perverse).

Now the city is discussing the Occupy movement in the context of the city's budget deficit. The Los Angeles Times, The Daily News and LA Weekly have all put out stories about how much the Occupy movement has cost the city. The latest estimate is $2.35 million. Much of that — $1.7 million — is attributed to the overtime paid out to LAPD cops. About half a million of that would have been paid out to employees anyway. The city is still trying to figure out how much fixing the lawn will cost.

One Occupy L.A. protester Carlos Marroquin who spoke to the Times accused city leaders of scapegoating the movement. He added that protesters believed the costly police response was overblown and a poor use of city resources: "This was a peaceful movement," he told the Times. "They're the ones that decided to use that amount of police, that amount of force."

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Councilman Dennis Zine told the Daily News that he supported the idea of recouping city costs from the Occupy L.A. protesters themselves. "Unfortunately, it's the taxpayers who will have to pay for it in the end," Zine told the Daily News. "We can't turn to the state for reimbursement, because they have no money, and it's not a federal issue, so we will have to find a way to pay for it."