No individual penalties in Clinton Open Records Case

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There will be no penalties imposed on any individuals in the Clinton City Council meeting records case. That was the ruling this morning (Thursday) in a court hearing on the penalty phase of the case.  The city had earlier been found to have violated the open records law by not released minutes of closed sessions concerning the EMS billing lawsuit.

The suit was filed by the AC-U on behalf of a citizens group known as Citizens For Open Government.

Since the city was in violation of the records law the penalty phase was the remaining piece.

Judge Nancy Tabor presided over the hearing.

The city’s legal counsel, Cynthia Sueppel, presented arguments that the case was filed against the records custodians and not individual council members so the plaintiffs could not seek penalties against persons not named in the suit.

Sueppel also argued that the original petition did not seek penalties against the records custodian.

The city’s legal counsel also told the court that the plaintiff’s lawyer had stated they did not to seek individual penalties against the city clerk.

Sueppel said penalties can not be assessed against persons who are not defendants in the case.

The plaintiff’s attorney, Blake Parker, conceded they were not seeking personal damages against the City Clerk.  He stated the council members should bear the burden of their mistakes and not the citizens.  He made the point these were council records and the council members were responsible.

Judge Tabor ruled in favor the city and dismissed any individuals from the penalty case stating there was not personal penalty or liability.

The case then came down to attorney fees. Under the law, since the city was determined to have violated the law they must pay the plaintiff’s attorney fees.

Sueppel said she believed were some duplication of services and questioned why it took 3 attorneys for the case.

Judge Tabor gave here a week to submit her objections to the billing.

Parker said the fees were 225-dollars an hour and said that was reasonable in handling ‘fee shifting cases.”

He said after the hearing the total bill submitted to the court was $43,811.

Ed O’Neill is a former member of CFOG, who was recently elected to the city council, said he was disappointed in the ruling to dismiss the individuals.  He said the no-one is being held accountable.

CFOG member Marty Nitschke, also said he was disappointed in the ruling and there is still no accountability, liability or transparency.

O’Neill did say that that ruling to release the records does open the chance to file a case for what CFOG believes were open meetings violations.  O’Neill and Nitschke said no decisions have been made on pursuing that legal avenue.

The city’s legal counsel in the case, Cynthia Sueppel commented they were pleased with the ruling, but had no other comment.