By Steve Plunkett
Resident Martin O’Boyle and town officials are girding again for a court battle — this time over how much O’Boyle’s attorneys should be paid in a public records case they won.
O’Boyle’s legal team tallied up its costs at $61,800 and offered to settle the debt for $35,000, Gulf Stream’s outside attorney, Robert Sweetapple, told town commissioners April 12.
Commissioners rejected the settlement offer after Sweetapple told them an expert who reviewed the bills decided even $35,000 was not reasonable. He said he would argue Gulf Stream should pay $10,000.
“At the O’Boyle Law Firm, in their billings, there are over one dozen time keepers who put in billing on this matter — over a dozen,” Sweetapple said.
“On this small public-records case,” Mayor Scott Morgan said.
Sweetapple said the firm, which is headed by O’Boyle’s son, Jonathan, said it worked 44,000 hours compared to 8,700 hours the town’s legal team needed.
“It appears to me to be a classic case of churning,” Morgan said.
But Sweetapple acknowledged the town might not win its argument.
“There’s always a risk that a judge is just going to, you know, split the baby,” he said.
An April 23 hearing to decide the fees was postponed after Elaine Johnson James, another O’Boyle attorney, told the Circuit Court judge there was not enough time to prepare following the Town Commission’s decision to fight. Among other conflicts, James had been subpoenaed for a hearing that day on the validity of a divorcing Gulf Stream couple’s prenuptial agreement.
“The imminent Easter weekend, and the schedules of the parties, their counsel and the witnesses make it impracticable to complete the discovery and report on the issues as to which there is disagreement before April 23, 2019,” James wrote in her motion.
The hearing will be rescheduled for some time in August or September, Judge Edward Artau said.
Last December, the town and O’Boyle resolved nine other lawsuits between them, with Gulf Stream admitting that it violated the state’s Public Records Act in four cases and paying O’Boyle $15,000 to drop the remaining five.
Both sides are negotiating how much O’Boyle’s attorneys will be paid in the four cases settled in his favor. Each party is paying its own legal bills in the five dismissed suits.
The nine cases were all that were left of 44 lawsuits that arose from more than 2,500 requests for public records by O’Boyle and fellow resident Chris O’Hare, town officials said. The town and O’Hare signed a settlement in 2017.
In other town business on April 12, a Comcast subcontractor told commissioners that work to connect homes via underground conduits would take until the end of June. Previously he had estimated he would finish in April.
By Steve Plunkett