Taxpayers are on the hook for more than $1 million to settle claims brought by two men wrongly accused in a 2006 double murder.
But an insurance policy will shield Cass County taxpayers from an additional $2 million in settlement costs and attorney's fees, though the county's annual premiums probably will rise.
Matt Livers and his cousin Nick Sampson were jailed for months after the shotgun murders of Livers' uncle and aunt, Wayne and Sharmon Stock of Murdock, Neb. Two teenagers from Wisconsin eventually pleaded guilty to the slayings and are serving life sentences.
In civil rights claims filed in 2007 and 2008, Sampson and Livers said the case against them largely hinged on blood evidence planted by former Douglas County crime lab director David Kofoed and coercive interrogations by investigators with the Cass County Sheriff's Office and the Nebraska State Patrol.
In October, the two men settled their claims against Cass and Douglas Counties and the Nebraska State Patrol for $2.6 million.
Douglas County, which is self-insured, paid its share of the settlement — $125,000 — out of a liability fund, Finance Director Joe Lorenz said. The fund was created with general tax dollars several years ago to handle lawsuit payouts, Lorenz said.
The state owes $975,000, a sum the Legislature will need to appropriate from the state general fund once the claim is approved by the state claims board, Attorney General's Office spokeswoman Shannon Kingery said.
The Nebraska Intergovernmental Risk Management Association, an insurance pool used by 80 Nebraska counties to handle liability claims, will pay $300,000 of Cass County's portion of the settlement, which was about $1.5 million. The rest will be paid by a third-party reinsurer with whom the risk management group has a policy.
The risk management association also covered Cass County's legal bills: As of Nov. 14, it had paid the Boucher Law Firm in Lincoln $496,169.
Boucher is billing at $135 an hour. Final fees will be determined once a final order is entered in Sampson's case, said Craig Nelson, the association's executive director.
The legal fees and settlement payment likely will increase the county's annual association premiums — currently $329,000 — but county officials won't know how much until next year.
“It's definitely on our radar,” Cass County Board Chairwoman Janet McCartney said.
Cass County's premiums have risen about 10 percent since the lawsuits were filed, but some of that increase is due to other factors, and the year-to-year increase has been relatively stable, Nelson said.
The Nebraska State Patrol was represented by the Attorney General's Office. Costs to defend the state fell within the department's normal operating budget, Kingery said.
Douglas County Deputy Attorney Theresia Urich said her office needs more time to compile how much it spent defending the county.
Attorney's fees were not included in the settlement. Instead, Livers' attorney, Locke Bowman, has asked U.S. District Judge Joseph Bataillon for $1.2 million in legal fees from Kofoed, in addition to $4.5 million in damages.
Bataillon has entered a default judgment against Kofoed regarding Livers' claim. Sampson's portion of the case has not yet been resolved.