OGDEN -- City officials facing a second trial from a nearly seven-year-old double-fatality car crash will first have to wrestle with the question of paying the plaintiff's attorney's $500,000 bill.
A 2nd District Court jury in November 2009 absolved the city of any liability in the death of Jessica Nelson in a collision that followed a police chase of Eddy Raymond Bustos.
Nelson, 21, and her passenger, Philemon "Bob" Ellis, 62, died in the crash with Bustos' car, which occurred about 3 a.m. Dec. 13, 2005, in the intersection of 24th Street and Grant Avenue.
Nelson's family filed suit in 2006, seeking $715,000 for Nelson's then 5-year-old daughter, Wonzie Barrientos.
After a six-day trial, the jury found former Ogden police officer Matt Jones' pursuit of Bustos did not cause the crash, which occurred seconds after Jones turned off his overhead lights and ended his chase. Bustos' speed was 78 mph at the time of impact, according to testimony.
But on June 8, the Utah Supreme Court ordered a new trial, finding the 2009 jury was prejudiced by suggestive questions from the city's lawyers as to Nelson's character, which the high court found "indefensible."
On July 16 the court's official paperwork arrived in Ogden's 2nd District Court, needed before any action can take place on the case. On July 18 came plaintiff's lawyer Rob Sykes' motion seeking his attorney's fees for the 2009 trial and appeals work since.
Normally, awarding of fees follows a win at trial, but Sykes argues the fees can be ordered now because of the "bad faith" the Supreme Court found by the city's lawyers in 2009.
Attempts to reach for comment the lawyers hired by the city for the trial, Salt Lake City-based Heather White and Allan Larson, and City Attorney Gary Williams and his chief deputy Mara Brown, were not successful Wednesday.
Sykes itemized his costs as including more than $258,000 in preparing for the trial and another $68,000-plus to put on the trial. The motion lists almost $184,000 in appeals costs.
"The $518,768 plaintiff expended is lost," reads the motion. "Significant amounts of time and money will have to be spent preparing for a new trial and retrying this case. It is not fair for plaintiff to have to pay this money again, since it is Ogden's conduct that necessitated a new trial."
The motion claims Ogden city reportedly spent $850,000 in defending the trial.
Bustos is serving a potential 30-year prison term after pleading guilty to two counts of manslaughter in 2007.