SPOKANE, Wash. - The decision to charge a Spokane man with shooting a car thief is coming back to haunt taxpayers as Gail Gerlach's attorneys have billed Spokane Superior Court nearly $300,000 in legal fees.
Expert witnesses, international plane tickets, plush per deims and courthouse parking. The costs associated with defending Gail Gerlach added up quickly but his attorneys say prosecutors should have never taken this case to trial in the first place.
Gerlach said he was in fear for his life when he fired a single shot at the man driving away in his stolen SUV. A Spokane jury was quick to find Gerlach's use of force justified and now state law allows Gerlach's attorney to bill taxpayers for their client's defense.
"That's exactly what the law was designed for, that no one will be out in jeopardy for having to defense themselves, especially in a self defense matter if one is able to prove to the jury's satisfaction that he in fact did," defense attorney Richard Lee said.
Lee said in the year he spent preparing for trial he worked 594 hours preparing for the case. At $200 to $300 per hour Lee has sent the county a $174,000 bill for his services. His co-counsel, David Stevens, is seeking $110,000, including hours he spent traveling to and from Spokane from his other job as a war crimes prosecutor in Kosovo.
"It's not the mileage that's being charged it's the attorney time, and that would be the same case with Mr. Stevens and I including the time he spent having to come up here all the way from Kosovo on an airplane when he's working on the case on his way here," Lee said.
Lee added while it may be hard for people to accept defending their client cost almost a third of a million dollars, attorneys had to pull out the stops to spare Gerlach a long sentence and likely bankruptcy for his family.
"Had he been convicted he would have been facing about ten years in prison and be the time he would have been released, he would have not had anything. no chances for employment, nothing. He would have been out so much," Lee said.
People who thought Gerlach's use of force was legitimate donated more than $8,000 to his legal defense fund. That money was very helpful bankrolling the start up of the defense case and in the long run more effective. Lee made it easy for the court to see how those donations were spent and subtracted the amount from his bill.
Prosecutors are expected to contest Gelach's legal bill Friday and can ask a judge to reduce the amount being asked by Lee and Stevens. Washington state taxpayers will end up paying for the final amount the government will pay for Gerlach's defense.