East Ridge must give judge attorney's bills

East Ridge must give judge attorney's bills

April 7th, 2009 by Elizabeth Ryan in Local Regional News

East Ridge has five business days to turn over City Attorney John Anderson's itemized bills for the court to inspect, a judge ruled Monday.

Hamilton County Chancellor Howell Peoples ordered the city to provide Mr. Anderson's billings to the court. Chancellor Peoples said he will review the documents to determine whether sharing them with the public would violate the city's attorney-client privilege.

County Commissioner Curtis Adams filed a lawsuit against East Ridge in Chancery Court on March 16 after the city denied multiple written requests he made for copies of Mr. Anderson's bills. The city has maintained that information included in the documents is protected by the attorney-client privilege.

"Mr. Adams made a proper request," Chancellor Peoples said Monday. "The proper way to ensure that the attorney-client privilege is observed and protected is for the city of East Ridge to furnish originals of the detailed billings of Mr. Anderson to the court."

The judge also ordered the city to highlight the portions of the bills they believe are privileged.

East Ridge City Manager William Whitson was subpoenaed to bring the documents with him to court on Monday, but he testified that he turned them over to Mr. Anderson's law firm - Grant, Konvalinka & Harrison, P.C. - until the court "compelled" him to submit them for inspection. He added that the city was not trying to hide or avoid questions about the bills.

"The city is pleased that the judge agreed that there is a privilege, and we will await the decision of the court. That's what we've always said," Mr. Whitson said after the hearing.

Mr. Adams said his interest in Mr. Anderson's bills began last summer while he was working as East Ridge's interim city manager.

He testified that Mr. Anderson's May 2008 billing in the amount of $17,690.80 prompted him to write a memo to the City Council, warning them their legal bills could exceed $100,000 for the year. He said he was particularly concerned about the combined $6,143.30 that Mr. Anderson charged for City Council meetings and agenda sessions that month.

As chairman of the Hamilton County Commission's finance committee, Mr. Adams also led the effort to obtain Mr. Anderson's itemized bills to the county Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority. In December, the WWTA agreed to produce the requested documents, which they had previously claimed were protected under attorney-client privilege.

Once released, the records showed WWTA spent almost $120,000 over a 14-month period on legal bills that included dining, attending routine meetings and reviewing newspaper articles.

After court Monday, Mr. Adams said he was gratified by the outcome.

"I'm just real pleased because this is what we really asked," Mr. Adams said. "We finally got in front of a judge."