A prevailing citizen-group in a suit against the City of Statesboro will return to court next month in an effort to recoup more than $18,000 in legal fees.
Plaintiffs in the 2010 case, in which a Bulloch County Superior Court judge deemed the city in violation of the Georgia Open Meetings Act, have scheduled a November hearing to recover legal expenses associated with an appeal by the city to the Georgia Supreme Court earlier this year — the Supreme Court, in September, upheld the Superior Court decision.
“The issue has been scheduled for a hearing November 1, 9 a.m., at the Superior Court in front of Judge Turner (Turner presided over the case in 2010),” according to Dan Snipes, of Franklin, Taulbee, Rushing, Snipes, and Marsh, who represents the group. “We have filed a motion for attorney fees related to the appeal.”
In September, Snipes submitted a letter to city officials requesting $18,639.48 for fees and expenses incurred since the August 31 Bulloch Superior Court date.
“I provided the city with a record of all of my billing records pertaining to this case,” he said. “Between now and the hearing I will decide exactly what we will seek.”
Statesboro City Manager Frank Parker says he was unaware of the hearing, but will attain legal council for the city prior to the date.
“[Snipes] has sent a packet to the city, which I have on my desk,” said Parker. “I have not read the papers because I have been out.”
“I am going to, more than likely during the next council meeting, ask council to give me the authority to hire an outside attorney to deal with the situation,” he said.
Parker says that he will recommend the services of Savannah-based lawyer Patrick O’Connor.
O’Connor, who worked with the city in the past, has begun discussing the case with Snipes, said Parker.
The fees being sought in November’s hearing could add to an amount already paid by the city as part of the original court ruling.
The Superior Court awarded the citizen group — Earl Dabbs, Charles Oliff, Raybon Anderson, Jody Stubbs, Ray Hendley and Ellis Wood — $4,250 for legal costs associated with the 2010 case.
“Our opinion is, of course, that we don’t owe this money,” said Parker. “But, we will know more when [O’Conner], if council approves him, is able to provide us with his suggestion about what to do.”
The 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.
The judge agreed.
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.”
The meetings were held Tuesday.
Jeff Harrison can be reached at (912) 489-9454.