This complaint alleges that the cities of Indio and Coachella outsourced the prosecution of some municipal code violations to a private law firm, Silver and Wright LLP. The firm criminally prosecuted individuals and charged them thousands of dollars for the prosecution. The firm has been designated as the deputy city prosecutor and is funded by the prosecution fees imposed on individuals. The City attorney recommended hiring Silver and Wright because the firm promised to recover 100% of the cities’ costs. Individuals were even billed for time spent discussing their cases with the firm. The plaintiffs allege that the defendants violated their due process and equal protection rights because the prosecutors had a financial interest in the outcome of the case.
The City of Indio and Plaintiffs ultimately settled. They key provisions of the settlement are as follows:
- The City will pay back all cost recovery fees collected from Plaintiffs and Class Members.
- The City will relinquish all claims to outstanding cost recovery fees and will not seek interest payments arising out of unpaid fines or fees.
- The City will remove any liens and relinquish any claims to any liens placed on Plaintiffs’ or potential Class Members’ properties as a result of being criminally prosecuted by Silver & Wright LLP and convicted, either by guilty plea or trial.
- The City will not oppose efforts by Plaintiffs or Class Members to vacate convictions entered as a result of criminal prosecution by Silver & Wright LLP.
- The City stipulates that the elements of coram nobis are met as to the Class Members, for purposes of settlement.
- The City will no longer seek to recover its attorneys’ fees in criminal prosecutions.
- The City will set oversight benchmarks to monitor any deputized city prosecutor.
- The City will amend its municipal code with respect to the recovery of attorneys’ fees to make it clear that such recovery is not available in the context of criminal prosecutions.
The City of Coachella and the law firm Silver & Wright LLP, in its capacity as Coachella’s official city prosecutor, remain parties to the lawsuit.
It should be noted that legislation was later enacted eliminating the ability of cities to charge defendants for the cost of prosecuting violations of local ordinances.
You can find a detailed summary and related case documents here, as well as a video about the case created by the Institute for Justice.