Oakland Spent $13.4 Million on Ghost Ship Legal Defense

March 18, 2021

The city of Oakland spent $13.4 million in legal fees to defend itself against the Ghost Ship warehouse fire civil lawsuit, newly released documents show.

The legal fees, contained in billings obtained by the East Bay Times through a Public Records Act request, are on top of the $33 million settlement with families of the 36 people killed, a badly injured survivor and people who lived at the warehouse.

The building, which housed an artist collective, caught fire during a music event on Dec. 2, 2016. Derick Almena, the master tenant, was sentenced Monday to 12 years in prison, although he is unlikely to spend more time in jail.

City Attorney Barbara Parker refused to say how much of the legal fees and the settlement will be covered by insurance and how much taxpayers will have to bear. Nor would she answer questions about the city’s legal strategy or how the hourly rates were determined.

Much of the money went for paying high-priced attorneys to sit in court watching the criminal case or filing motions in the civil case arguing unsuccessfully, and repetitively, that the city was not legally liable because of broad immunities afforded to public agencies for failure to inspect buildings.

An Alameda Superior Court judge rejected the argument, finding Oakland had a “mandatory duty” to ensure safety at the ill-fated warehouse, a ruling upheld at the appellate court. The California Supreme Court declined to hear the case.


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