The economy may still be sluggish in Oregon, but at least one sector of employment is doing well: Personal injury and civil rights attorneys. Over the past year, there have been several high-profile deaths. But now, as personal grief recedes, an epilogue to those stories is emerging--one that is more about retribution and financial reward.

Currently, several major lawsuits are pending against the City of Portland, the police bureau, and the state's Department of Human Services. As well, the New Copper Penny, a club in outer southeast, is weathering a multi-million dollar lawsuit.

A week before Thanksgiving, 23-year-old Nafatali Tafito Rusia was put in a chokehold by security at the New Cooper Penny. A few minutes later, Rusia was dead from asphyxiation. In December, the New Copper Penny's head security guard, Tony Mark, pleaded not guilty to a second-degree manslaughter charge. While the criminal case pushes forward, Rusia's wife has filed a civil suit in Multnomah County Circuit Court. Seeking $3.3 million, the lawsuit alleges that the security used excessive force on Rusia and, moreover, that the New Copper Penny failed to properly train its employees.

The city of Portland is also facing three significant lawsuits, all stemming from police actions. One lawsuit relates back to a protest against President Bush on August 22, 2002, where several demonstrators were pepper-sprayed pointblank by officers. Currently in a discovery phase, that suit is progressing towards a courtroom battle as soon as within the next few months.

A second, similar suit arises from last spring's anti-war marches, where two protesters and a KATU cameraman were allegedly struck and pepper-sprayed by officers.

A third lawsuit has also been filed by Kendra James' family. In May, James, a 21-year-old black woman, was shot in the back by a rookie police officer as she tried to flee a routine traffic stop. There is a widespread perception that both city hall and the police bungled the investigation. After the shooting, several officers who were at the scene headed over to a nearby Appleby's. According to a citizen review committee that looked at the details of the shooting, the officers' stories about what happened at the traffic stop changed after they met at the restaurant.

The lawsuit is asking for more than $10 million in damages, five times the amount of the city's current budget shortfall.