The East Ridge City Council on Thursday balked at paying former City Attorney John Anderson $5,914.33 for copying 41 boxes of legal records.
Council members said they recently learned that the lawyer, who was fired in mid-December when the council majority changed, made the mass copyings at his office just before departing. He had his office staff spend a week copying the mass of documents related to East Ridge lawsuits. Then he shipped them by truck to East Ridge City Hall.
Then he sent the bill to East Ridge taxpayers.
Cost was itemized as $1,822 for copying and the rest for paying his staff overtime on the project.
City Manager Tim Gobble said the mass of material was temporarily stored in a secure area at the city. Hal North, the new city attorney, said he is the recipient of the pile of material.
Meanwhile, Mr. Gobble was quizzed on whether he has retained attorney Anderson to represent him in any matter relating to East Ridge - with the charge to East Ridge taxpayers. Mr. Gobble said he has not at this time.
But he said he may in the future hire the lawyer on a matter such as "involving my performance" because he said attorney Anderson is familiar with the city's government and "he's an excellent attorney." The new council majority has had a prickly relationship with City Manager Gobble, but has yet made no move to fire him.
Councilman Marc Gravitt said, "I don't want the citizens of East Ridge to have to be paying two attorneys. I think we need one voice."
City Manager Gobble said for the time being he is represented by attorney North in a case involving East Ridge in which he was sued. But he said, if there is a conflict, "I may go out and hire a separate attorney." He said he is entitled to do so under his contract with the city.
Vice Mayor Jim Bethune said he counted $204,000 in charges from attorney Anderson for 2012, including $37,000 in severance pay. Then the city got another bill recently for $14,331.74, including the disputed copying charge.
The council passed a motion to pay all of the latest bill except for the copying. Voting in favor were Vice Mayor Bethune and council members Gravitt and Denny Manning. Councilman Larry Sewell abstained and Mayor Brent Lambert voted no.
Attorney North suggested that the city seek arbitration arranged by the Chattanooga Bar Association on the copying charge. He said attorney Anderson could opt to go along with the arbitration or sue the city for the amount.
He said it is normal for attorneys to make copies prior to handing over a case to another lawyer. He said, "It is not normal to charge for the copies."
The remainder of the latest Anderson bill deals with ongoing litigation. Attorney North said under his contract he had a basic retainer and he also was paid per hour for litigation. Attorney North is paid a flat $7,500 per month that covers all charges.
Councilman Gravitt said of the city's legal bills, "We've got several cases, my gosh, that have been dragging on for years - over very trivial matters. Is there any way we can get these off our backs?"
Attorney North said the city of East Ridge is embroiled in 6-8 lawsuits and some of them indeed have been going on for years. He said, "The city does not need to be juggling that many balls," and he said he has been taking steps to try to settle some or all of the pending cases.
One long-running one, he said, involves the Superior Creek Lodge. He said attorney Anderson had lined up 41 potential witnesses in a projected trial of the case in Criminal Court.
The latest Anderson bill included $4,819 for Superior Creek Lodge litigation.