The City of Statesboro could face additional, hefty costs after the Georgia Supreme Court upheld a Bulloch County court ruling requiring the city pay the legal expenses of citizens who sued the city for violating the state’s Open Meetings Act.
The prevailing citizens group — Earl Dabbs, Charles Oliff, Raybon Anderson, Jody Stubbs, Ray Hendley and Ellis Wood — is asking the city pay for legal costs associated with the Sept. 12 appeal, in addition to the $4,250 already awarded by the court.
Dan Snipes, of Franklin, Taulbee, Rushing, Snipes, and Marsh, who represents the plaintiffs, submitted a letter to city officials last week requesting $18,639.48 for attorney fees and expenses incurred since the Bulloch Superior Court decision August 31, 2010.
“When the Supreme Court issues a remittitur, thus sending the case back to the Superior Court of Bulloch County, I, on behalf of my clients, will request a hearing on the issue,” Snipes said.
The requested monies “are to pay attorney fees related to the appeal,” he said.
According to City Manager Frank Parker, the city does not intend to grant the requested payment, only the $4,250 required by the August ruling of Judge John R. Turner, which was unchanged by the appellate court.
The city provided Snipes with a check for that amount last week.
“I contacted our former staff attorney — who is still under contract, but can not represent us — and he provided a recommendation that the city retain an attorney to represent against the collection of any fees over the $4,250 awarded,” Parker said. “The Supreme Court did not order additional attorney fees be rewarded and the case has not been remitted for any additional fees.”
The two parties will likely have to meet in court again to resolve the issue.
According to Snipes, “the Supreme Court will issue a remittitur, as with any case that goes to the appellate court,” and a hearing on the matter will be requested.
The case could be handed back to the Bulloch court “within a relatively short period of time,” he said.
The attorney believes his clients have a legitimate claim for the additional monies.
“Case law in Georgia establishes that on an appeal under the Open Meetings Act, that the prevailing party is entitled to attorney’s fees for the appeal,” he said. “In this case, my client prevailed as it related to the appeal, and I am going to ask the court to apply the law to this case.”
The citizen group originally filed the lawsuit against the City of Statesboro on June 29, 2010, arguing that two city meetings held at the Gateway Pond House (April 1 and 19), instead of City Hall’s council chambers, violated Georgia law because they were not properly advertised and minutes of the meetings were not made available to the public.
City officials asserted that notice was posted on the front door of City Hall, but not at the Pond House, which is on private property and inaccessible to the public during most days.
The city conceded that no minutes were recorded at the meetings — according to then City Manager Shane Haynes, the city historically did not prepare minutes for meetings in which no action was taken.
As part of his ruling, in addition to requiring Statesboro pay the plaintiffs’ legal fees, Turner ordered the city to publish the full agenda for the April 1 and April 19 meetings and hold the meetings again “where the subject matter for the April 1, and April 19, 2010 meetings is discussed in an open and public forum.”
Those meetings were held earlier this year.
Jeff Harrison can be reached at (912) 489-9454.