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 County Court Reduces Attorney Fees

September 3, 2008 - The town of Knightstown and its insurer have received a $12,400 benefit from a Henry County judge who reduced a prior judgment against them by 18.3 percent.

In March 2007, Henry Circuit Court Judge Mary Willis ordered the town and its insurer to pay The Banner $67,612.46 for attorney fees and court costs after they lost a lawsuit the newspaper brought to get access to a public record. In an order issued Aug. 12, Willis clarified inconsistencies in the March 2007 order to reflect that the judgment should have been for $55,212.46.

The Banner had appealed the March 2007 judgment, believing Willis erred in the amount of attorney fees she ordered. While the Court of Appeals agreed, it said in a ruling issued this March that inconsistencies in Willis' ruling made it impossible to determine if her error in calculating the fees had been harmless, as the town argued.

While the Court of Appeals had remanded the case to Willis for her to clarify the inconsistencies in the March 2007 order, the town's insurer sought a rehearing from the Court of Appeals before that could happen. The insurer's petition for rehearing was granted, and the Court of Appeals issued a second ruling in late June.

The town's insurer had argued that it should not be responsible for paying any of The Banner's attorney fees or court costs and that Willis had erred in holding the town and the insurer jointly and severally liable. The Court of Appeals rejected the insurer's arguments, however, and said Willis had ruled properly on that issue.

Joint and several liability means that both the town and its insurer are responsible for the entire $55,212.46 judgement for attorney fees and court costs. If not paid, both the town and its insurer can be subjected to further legal proceedings brought to collect what is owed.

During a special meeting on the town's proposed 2009 budget on Aug. 26, Knightstown Town Council member Terry Guerin asked Judy Haines, the town's clerk-treasurer, if next year's budget took into account the judgement. Haines said the town's Cumulative Capital Improvement and Cumulative Capital Development funds had been increased a total of $20,000 from the 2008 budget, to $40,000 and $20,000, respectively.

Although the town has hired a new attorney, its former legal counsel, New Castle attorney David Copenhaver, has continued to represent the town with respect to this litigation. Guerin noted during last week's meeting that Copenhaver had not notified the council of Willis' Aug. 12 ruling or that the Court of Appeals had certified its June ruling on Aug. 8.

Council member Steve Nelson said at last week's meeting that he thinks the town needs to negotiate with its insurer to determine what portion of the attorney fees and court costs each will pay. Valerie Trump, the council's president, said she thought that the amounts in the town's CCI and CCD funds would be sufficient to cover the town's liability.

 

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