Legal bills as contentious as court battle over special election
FAIRFIELD — The town has spent over $85,000 to date on the court battle over last June’s special election for the Board of Selectmen.
The bulk of the costs are attributed to bills submitted by attorney James Baldwin, hired during a controversial special meeting called by Selectman Chris Tymniak and then-Selectman Edward Bateson. First Selectman Mike Tetreau, who contends under the town charter he is the only one with the authority to hire town attorneys, had initially hired Robert Morrin to represent the town in the case filed by five Democrats who sought to force the special election for Bateson’s seat.
The special election was upheld by the lower courts and Bateson lost the election to Democrat Kevin Kiley. Tymniak and Bateson are Republicans, and Baldwin is the former chairman of the Republican Town Committee. He has appealed the Superior Court decision and wants the special election results voided and Bateson reinstated. The case was recently moved from the Appellate Court to the state Supreme Court.
Baldwin had submitted invoices for $55,840 and a second, more recent bill, for about $13,000. Those bills, now paid, included a late fee of $569.
The bills for the special election also include $3,570 from the firm of Carmoday Torrance Sandak Hennessy LLC for an “ethics compliance” review of Baldwin’s billing.
At a recent Board of Finance quarterly review, some Republican finance board members questioned why a review was done for Baldwin’s bills and not those submitted by Town Attorney Stanton Lesser and Morrin.
“I think my comment is that we’ve spent a lot of money, and it doesn’t appear that Carmoday and Torrance, right now, looked at that last (Baldwin) bill,” James Walsh said. “It seems like a lot of money, $4,000 on what was a $56,000 bill.”
Walsh also wondered why reviews weren’t done of the other attorney’s bills, and noted that Morrin billed the town for work on a legal brief he said was rejected by the Appellate Court because it was not filed on time. Morrin has represented Tetreau in the case, because although he is technically a defendant in the case, Tetreau does not agree with the contention the special election should not have been held.
Attorneys Joel Green and William Burke represent the five plaintiffs.
“Mr. Green did a good brief, a lot more thorough brief,” Walsh said. “Mr. Morrin’s briefs were basically a ‘me too’ brief.”
He said in the future, to avoid looking politically motivated, “You’ve got to send all of the bills out,” Walsh said. “Either you do one or you do none.”
Finance board member David Becker said the town spent almost $10,000 to have Morrin “simply agree with the plaintiff.” Morrin has submitted bills totaling $7,329. “It’s a huge amount of money to simply agree with the plaintiff,” Becker said.
Lesser, whose bills for the special election total $5,920, said an attorney’s job is to represent his client and his client’s position.
“I’m not disagreeing,” Becker said, “but 10 grand was spent on agreeing with the other side.”
“It was spent on representing his client,” the town attorney said.
Becker asked if there were any motions made on Tetreau’s behalf, since he did not agree with the defendants, to have himself removed from the case.
“He’s a defendant in the case; I don’t know that he has that right,” Lesser said.
The decision to review Baldwin’s bill was made by Tetreau and Lesser. “So the first selectman and town attorney made a decision that would lead us down the road to an additional $4,000,” Chris DeWitt said.
Since he has been town attorney, Lesser said this is the first time a legal bill was sent out for review.
“It just looks odd. I remember bills we paid on the Metro Center, astronomical invoices — not one of them was ever sent out for review. Bills were just paid,” said Walsh, who was member of the Board of Selectmen in 2011, when the cost overruns at the Fairfield Metro train station were discovered. “It gives the appearance of politics, and I’ll just leave that there.”