Taxpayers’ Bill for Selectmen’s Folly Climbs to $20,930.87

The selectmen lost their lawsuit against Bob McWhirter and me but they’re still paying their attorney, Richard Sager for it using taxpayer money. Sager’s invoice from September includes $1,884.75 for services related to the selectmen’s lawsuit. This brings the total that the selectmen have paid to Sager for the lawsuit to $18,649.62. The selectmen also paid $2,281.25 to Patrick Harvie to give “expert testimony” at the court hearing in June.

That brings the total amount of taxpayer money that the selectmen have spent trying to make it more difficult for the public to access public documents to $20,930.87.

The selectmen have spent such a large amount of money on their failed lawsuit that even Sager seems to think it’s too much. Starting in September, Sager reduced his rate and his paralegal’s rate — for the services related to the Right to Know case only — to 60% of his regular fee, which is $175 per hour. (That is the prevailing municipal rate for attorneys in this area.) [See update below.] Sager’s regular rate for his paralegal is $100 per hour. He reduced those rates to $105 and $60.

If Sager had charged his regular fees for the work related to the lawsuit in September then his invoice for those services would have been $3,141.25 not $1,884.75.

I appreciate that Sager reduced his rates (for work related to the lawsuit) in September. However, the bulk of the work his office performed in that month was redacting of emails. Even at his reduced rates, that’s an incredible waste of taxpayer money considering the selectmen could have had the town office staff, who we already pay, do that work at no extra cost. Instead they chose to have Sager do the redaction work.

If the selectmen are going to continue to waste taxpayer money, I suggest Sager revert to his normal rates. Why should he take less than his normal fee? I don’t blame him for charging for his services.

Update: The post originally states “That is the prevailing rate for attorneys in this area.” But I updated it to include be the municipal rate after Sager had this to say on Facebook in response to this post:

Oh, Max. More complaining. Much Ledoux about nothing. And not accurate once again. So here goes. (1) I reduced my rate by 40% for the purpose of redacting emails because the Town didn’t have the resources available to do it. My rate for municipalities is $175/hour. (2) You are incorrect (again) when you say $175/hour “is the prevailing rate for attorneys in this area.” Wrong. That’s a prevailing rate (or even a little low) for attorneys doing municipal work. Call around and you will see the prevailing hourly rate in this area for non-municipal work ranges around $275-$300/hour. Head south and it’s in the $350-450 range. (3) I didn’t just decide to charge a lower rate for email redaction in September 2017. I offered that to the selectmen in 2016 when you made your request for 13,000 emails. So, when are you going to inform me and the folks on this Forum about your decision whether you agree to sit down and meet? Just don’t ignore the invitation, man up! If you don’t want to participate, say so (and why would be interesting). If your answer is yes, let’s set it up.

Sager has never substantiated the “13,000” emails claim, although he throws it at me often as if it’s a lot of emails (it’s not). In court documents, the selectmen’s administrative secretary, Karen Koch, stated there were between 740 and 760 emails responsive to Bob McWhirter’s Right to Know request. My Right to Know request has so far produced a few hundred emails, at most. (However, the selectmen are refusing to provide me all of the emails that were the subject of the lawsuit.) Further, Karen stated in the documents that were filed with the court that the selectmen’s counsel (Sager) had informed her that the number of emails was not relevant.