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Judge rules against Sheriff John Darr in lawyer fee squabble

Muscogee County Sheriff John Darr,far right, and his attorneys, from left, Kerry Howell, Kellye Moore and Larry Walker at a hearing on Darr’s lawsuit against the city.
Muscogee County Sheriff John Darr,far right, and his attorneys, from left, Kerry Howell, Kellye Moore and Larry Walker at a hearing on Darr’s lawsuit against the city. mhaskey@ledger-enquirer.com

The judge hearing Sheriff John Darr’s case against the city ruled against Darr’s attorneys this week, denying a motion to strike from the case a letter sent by attorneys for the city objecting to some of the plaintiff’s legal bills.

Last month, attorneys for the city wrote to Judge Philip Raymond, claiming that Darr’s attorneys had billed the city, and hence the taxpayers, for time spent preparing Darr for a meeting with Columbus Council concerning his budget problems.

Darr’s attorneys responded with a motion to strike the letter, claiming that not only was the billing legitimate, but that the city’s attorneys had also violated a court order by releasing the letter and the redacted billing invoice to the Ledger-Enquirer under the Georgia Open Records Act.

This week, Raymond denied the motion to strike the letter and said he may schedule a hearing over the matter of the billing. The city has also filed a motion for summary judgment to dismiss what remains of Darr’s original lawsuit, filed in late 2014.

Mayor Teresa Tomlinson said the city and its attorneys will continue to scrutinize billings coming from Darr’s attorneys.

“This is just another step in what we hope is the swift end to this mess,” Tomlinson said. “We will continue to do all we can to appropriately object to attorneys fees and fight for the citizen dollars being used in this unfortunate way.”

Darr attorney Kellye Moore, of the firm of Walker, Hulbert, Gray and Moore of Perry, Ga., filed the motion to strike a few days after a story appeared in the Ledger-Enquirer citing the bill Moore had submitted to Superior Court for review. Moore was unavailable for comment on Friday.

A previous judge in the case, Hilton Fuller, ordered the plaintiff’s attorneys to submit invoices to the court but also to submit redacted copies to the city. The redaction was to remove any information protected by attorney-client privilege or represented “attorney work product to which the defense counsel would not be privy.”

Raymond ruled that disclosing the contents of the redacted invoice did not violate the previous judge’s order because the sensitive information was in fact redacted.

Darr is one of four elected officials who sued the city, Columbus Council and the city’s top executive leadership over budget issues in late 2014. Because Darr and Superior Court Clerk Linda Pierce are constitutional officers, state law compels the city to pay for their attorney fees. Marshal Greg Countryman and Municipal Court Clerk Vivian Creighton Bishop, the other two elected officials who co-filed a joint suit, are not constitutional officers, so they must pay their own legal fees.

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