By Steve Plunkett
A Palm Beach County circuit judge has awarded Martin O’Boyle’s attorneys $122,687 in fees for a lawsuit that sought 15 months’ worth of a town commissioner’s emails and text messages.
The total was slashed after an expert witness for O’Boyle’s side testified that the fees the O’Boyle Law Firm wanted should be cut from $87,007 to $53,599, Circuit Judge Janis Brustares Keyser wrote in her Nov. 22 order.
Nine lawyers and paralegals at the O’Boyle Law Firm and four lawyers at threes other firms submitted bills.
A lawyer for the town, Joanne O’Connor, said Gulf Stream considers the ruling a win. “We do certainly think it reflects a significant reduction of fees,” O’Connor said. “Their own expert said reduce the fees by 40%.”
Elaine Johnson James, who represents O’Boyle’s StopDirtyGovernment LLC in the case, said Keyser still has to determine how much the expert is owed.
“With litigation ongoing, my client believes it is not appropriate to comment,” said James, who billed $27,137.
The lesser amount the expert recommended included approximately $21,000 for work done by Martin O’Boyle’s son, Jonathan, who heads the O’Boyle Law Firm. But the judge ruled that Jonathan O’Boyle was not entitled to fees for work he did after his father replaced him with another attorney, Robert Rivas, and further trimmed his allowable bill to $10,360.
Jonathan O’Boyle sent an automatic reply to an email seeking comment saying he was out of the country.
Rivas, who separately has represented The Coastal Star in First Amendment and other issues, was due $63,753, the judge said. But Rivas and Martin O’Boyle had a falling-out in 2018 over this and other cases, and Rivas sued for $120,019 in unpaid bills. Rivas dropped his lawsuit after settling for $50,000, he testified in a deposition in another public records case.
Keyser’s decision leaves two cases unresolved of the four left open in the global settlement that Gulf Stream and Martin O’Boyle reached in December 2018. The town paid O’Boyle $15,000 in that agreement, in which both sides dropped five cases and part of a sixth.
Gulf Stream in August agreed to pay $6,000 to settle a lawsuit over an O’Boyle request for a bill by another attorney for the town, Robert Sweetapple.
Still to be decided are O’Boyle attorney’s fees in lawsuits over a second Sweetapple bill and a letter O’Boyle sent the town regarding rules for sober houses. Also unresolved are the fees in another public records lawsuit that was not covered by the global agreement and which sought Gulf Stream police communications during the 2014 municipal election when O’Boyle ran for a Town Commission seat.
O’Boyle and town resident Chris O’Hare began blanketing Town Hall with public records requests in 2013, ultimately making more than 2,000 demands and filing dozens of lawsuits.
Both men said they were exercising their right to inspect government records; Gulf Stream argued it was a scheme to extort inflated attorney’s fees from small municipalities.