Occupy Columbia members reach financial settlement in lawsuit against Gov. Nikki Haley

Big fat (mic) check

Score $192,000 for the 99 percent.

That’s how much the S.C. Insurance Reserve Fund will have to pay members of Occupy Columbia who sued Gov. Nikki Haley after she had them arrested for protesting on the Statehouse grounds in 2011. The more than a dozen Occupiers who brought the suit will receive about $9,000 apiece.

“I’m happy with the outcome,” says Walid Hakim, one of the 19 demonstrators arrested by Bureau of Protective Services officers on an order from the governor on Nov. 16, 2011.

The court battle dragged on for more than two years as Haley’s attorneys attempted to argue that the governor should be immune from the lawsuit. In December, a federal appeals court rules that Haley should not be immune and the Occupiers had a right to a trial. The Occupiers accused the governor of violating their constitutional rights, since citizens are allowed to protest on the Statehouse grounds. The county solicitor had dropped all criminal charges against the Occupiers, and the local police refused to assist with the arrests because they didn’t believe a crime had been committed.

Both sides spent all day yesterday mediating a final settlement in the case. Some of the Occupiers would have liked to see the case play out in court, but they ended up all agreeing to take the state’s offer.

“There were some of us who would have gladly gone all the way to trial,” says Occupy member Tim Liszewski. “But we recognized other peoples’ concerns and needs as well.”

Hakim says he thinks the Occupiers did what was best for the group.

A spokesman for Haley maintained the governor “made the right call” by having the demonstrators arrested, and said Haley didn’t want to settle the case. “In no way does the governor support the Insurance Reserve Fund’s decision to agree to this settlement,” Doug Mayer told The Associated Press in an e-mail. Mayer said the settlement was hashed out by representatives of the state entity that pays for the legal defense of state officials when they are sued.

The state is likely to cost taxpayers much more than $192,000. The lawsuit has been racking up a legal tab at the IRF since it began. Earlier this month, the IRF’s director Anne Macon Smith declined to say how much the case had cost the state including legal fees and expenses, citing a state law allowing the fund to keep the cost records secret until the conclusion of the case. Now that it’s over, the City Paper has put in a followup request.

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