Town Spends $17,000 To Defend $5 Fee It Charged Resident, Loses

The town of Bridgewater, NJ, just spent $17,000 in legal costs to defend its right to charge a guy $5 for a CD recording of a town council meeting. The man had argued that he should only be required to pay for the actual cost of the CD. The case went to court and the town ended up losing. The kicker? They also had to pay him back a $4.04 refund for the overage.

Bridgewater spends $17K to defend $5 fee it charged resident [NJ via Gothamist] (Thanks to RJ!)

Comments

Edit Your Comment

  1. blinky says:

    “Township Attorney Alan Grant tells The Courier News of Bridgewater the legal fees would have been substantially lower had Coulter settled, as the township had offered. ” Well, yes. Or if he hadn’t filed a case originally. And the sky would be orange if it wasn’t blue.

  2. Caffinehog says:

    Why the heck didn’t I go into law????

    • dohtem says:

      Because you are not a dirty blood sucking leech?

      I keed, I keed….

    • framitz says:

      Because you’re not a sociopathic asshole?

    • sonneillon says:

      Because there are too many lawyers. I don’t mean that in a social or political context I mean that in a supply and demand context. Demand for lawyers is lower than supply. That means the competition for corporate and government positions is ridiculously high. Only a few lawyers make a lot of money.

      • tsukiotoshi says:

        Yeah, it is not a good profession to be in at the moment. I’m really hoping that message is getting out there to new people thinking about going to law school.

        • Clyde Barrow says:

          Only a good message to someone who wants to go into law to make money and not care about the clients. What happened to potential law students that wanted to “make a difference” or “become someone to help those in need”, or here’s an idea, “work for a nominal income of $60-80k a year working for the fed’s or at home. That’s not a bad living. Now day’s it seems that lawyers don’t care about anything except the ole mighty dollar.

  3. catnapped says:

    So who do the townsfolk go after to beat the crap out of when their taxes go up to pay for this?

    • Clearly says:

      Alan Grant, for failing to diligently represent the people of the town.

      • ttw1 says:

        It would seem that a few hours of legal research would show that the town couldn’t overcharge under the FOIA. I have no direct knowledge, but there has to be legal precedents that are on point. How thier legal bill got to over $14,000 is amazing. And sad.

    • plumbob says:

      Hopefully the town’s blood sucking lawyer. It is the fault of the town’s representation for not properly advising the town that they could not sell the CDs for a profit, and further negligent in trying to fight the case. A good attorney knows when, and tells you, when the law in not in your favor even if you may not like it.

      It sounds to me like they didn’t have someone who would speak the truth to his superiors or that just plainly incompetent. Either way, not the fault of the plaintiff.

      • Rose says:

        Or whomever hired the attorney, who has to represent their client’s decisions, even when they’re batshit crazy.

        • RvLeshrac says:

          No, actually, they don’t.

          Lawyers are officers of the court, which means that they have to do what is *LEGAL*, not simply what the client demands. If it is plain that their client has no legal grounds on which to sue, they must either inform the client that they are no longer able to represent them, or file for dismissal.

      • Torgonius wants an edit button says:

        Or, being that this is New Jersey, someone in the law firm is politcally connected to the mayor, and took the case knowing that there would be a heft amount of legal fees for the town to cough up, win or lose.

        In New Jersey, never credit to inexperience that which can be attributed to graft and corruption. And that goes for those with (D), (R) or (I) to the right of their name.

    • cape1232 says:

      You think that’s bad. Check out this town, which literally has to levy a $200 fee on every citizen to pay for an $800,000 court settlement.

      http://www.freep.com/article/20101226/NEWS06/12260574/1007/news05/Property-owners-face-tax-hike-1-million-verdict-in-zoning-lawsuit

  4. Clearly says:

    “Township Attorney Alan Grant tells The Courier News of Bridgewater the legal fees would have been substantially lower had Coulter settled, as the township had offered.”

    True but missing the point.

    There would have been zero legal fees and court time if the township had done what it should have done from the outset !

    • Clyde Barrow says:

      Agreed. It seems that a good lawyer working for the township with common sense and experience would have said to himself, “we ain’t gonna win. I guess Township Attorney Alan Grant has neither.

      He should be asking these questions, “I know because I am a lawyer and I know law and this is about his freedom of information and this guy can do this”.

      And even if the township could prove otherwise, the cost of a lawsuit outweighs the suit anyway. The suit is not value-added but a waste of resources.

  5. Rachacha says:

    $17,000 expense to preserve the right to charge $5/CD. that is 3400 CDs! How many CDs does the council actually distribute that it was worth even pursuing the matter. The guy was willing to pay for the blank CD, but he as a taxpayer was already paying for the salary & equipment necessary to produce 1 CD.

  6. plumbob says:

    “The fees would have been substantially lower had Coulter stteled.”

    So… If you offer someone a settlement they are somehow morally obligated to take it because it might cost extra if they don’t? I guess I am curious to see what the term of the settlement were, they may well have been the same as the ultimate decision of the court.

    Who decided to even argue this though? The city would have had to sell almost 5000 CDs and a $4 profit margin to make up the costs for taking this to court. If any town of under 50,000 people in America even has 5000 residents aware of when or where the council meets and cares enough to then find out what is going on in those meetings… Well I’ll eat my CD recording of the city council meeting.

  7. Raanne says:

    So, does the person who makes the CD in response to the freedom of information request work for free?

    • Cameraman says:

      I’ll bet he or she gets paid out of taxes… which the defendant already paid.

      • Griking says:

        “Yes sir, I know that you’re here to pay your taxes but I’ll be with you in a few moments right after I finish burning all of these CDs”

    • Crim Law Geek says:

      They are being paid whether they are burning CD’s or not.

    • ChuckECheese says:

      Didn’t you hear? The entire world works for tips, just like your waiter. If they’re a member of the moyenne-bourgeoisie, they charge fee-for-service, like your barber or your shrink. But even if they already get paid out of taxes that you pay, you should pay them more to provide services to you, because you aren’t paying them to do things for you, you’re paying them out of your taxes to do things that they charge you for.

    • Megalomania says:

      No, he works on a salary that is paid by tax dollars… like those of the guy who requested the CD.

      At any rate, they are required to give him the information he requested. What he (correctly) argued was that to set a price above the cost of the materials required to give him that information defeats the purpose; to wit, if the council wanted no one to ever see that recording, they could set the price at $1,000,000,000,000. It was, at any rate, a really stupid thing to argue about, and the comment about “would have been lower had Coulter settled” is dumber still.

  8. Hi_Hello says:

    I didn’t know that the freedom act let you do this. That’s cool. Good for him for standing up and better that he won. Hope anyone who paid full price are offer refunds.

  9. phil says:

    Coulter didn’t accept a settlement because he believed he was in the right. The court agreed.

    Plus, I doubt the township’s settlement included their own admission of guilt, a free refund and covering his legal fees.

  10. evnmorlo says:

    Now we need to get all the other fees for licenses and IDs reduced to actual cost.

    • aaron8301 says:

      No kidding. My Class A CDL with doubles, triples, tankers and HazMat is damn expensive!

    • Ayanami says:

      Please. I find it asinine that I pay taxes, then have to pay because the State wants to keep track of my car. If states want to track cars (that’s all vehicle registration is) then they should make room in their budgets for. Mandatory fees are bullshit, period.

    • Sam McGee says:

      Those are all just taxes/fees placed upon people who obey the law.

  11. hanoverfiste says:

    The OP could have saved himself the five bucks if he had just downloaded the meeting off of Bit Torrent.

  12. Warren - aka The Piddler on the Roof says:

    Well, at least the lawyers will have a Merry Christmas, eh?

    See, there’s a silver lining in everything.

  13. macoan says:

    I would just be interesting when someone else comes in and says “Hey, remember this CD I purchased last month for $5 – I would like a refund for the overage”

    … I wondering if the town is smart enough to just stop trying to rip off the people they are suppose to represent.

  14. sgtyukon says:

    Where do they buy their CD’s? They don’t cost 96 cents either.

    • coren says:

      No, but perhaps part of that goes to the person recording them. It takes them 3 minutes of labor to record, hypothetically, and the cd cost say, 16 cents, so this person might be making 16 bucks an hour. Or something along those lines (20 cds an hour, 80 cents labor cost per cd)

  15. drjayphd says:

    The RIAA is interested in offering Grant a position on their crack legal squad, considering him a natural fit.

  16. stevied says:

    Spent $17K in legal fees?

    No, a good portion of that the amount is prepaid legal fees. Another portion will be charged against the city insurance.

    • ttw1 says:

      Insurance carrier: “Your insurance is going up next year.”
      Town: “Why is that?”
      Insurance carrier: “Because you all are a bunch of dumasses.”

  17. DovS says:

    This wasn’t necessarily a stupid move for the town. They probably didn’t want to agree to the claim since it could have meant having to pay that $4.04 refund to everyone who has ever bought a CD recording of a town meeting. For all we know, there could be thousands of those sold over the years. If there were just 4,208 CD sold, those refunds would outweigh the $17,000 legal costs. Of course, now they may have to refund all those too since they lost but it does explain why the town may have viewed the risk as worthwhile since more than just $4.04 was at stake.

  18. PsiCop says:

    I make my own town-meeting recordings at home.

  19. zappo says:

    I like the fact that the guy suing only wanted the overage back (and legal costs) and did not ask for damages for “mental distress” or some such thing.

  20. Kevin says:

    This is a good result (except for the taxpayers of said town) as there are no prices defined for FOIA requests. Limiting it to the cost of materials will guarantee better transparency through affordable information.

    • dg says:

      In Illinois, the FOIA statute says that the first 50 pages are free (letter or legal size, b/w only), and a maximum of 15 cents per page thereafter. Color or sizes other than the letter/legal size can be billed at the actual cost of reproduction. If the filer wants the response via email, there’s no charge. If they want it on DVD or CD it’s the cost of the media. If they want it mailed, it’s the actual cost of mailing.

      These government schmucks just don’t want to make it easy for people to call them on the crap they pull. Kudos to the guy for suing their asses.

  21. El-Brucio says:

    My city has suffered similar problems with residents wanting to cut down trees that are damaging their homes. It seems that when the city asks their legal department “do we have a leg to stand on”, what the lawyers actually hear is “do you want more billable hours”. The last case cost the city 140,000 dollars. So the lawyers get rich while city taxes go up.

    • dg says:

      Don’t ask. Just cut the damn tree. Blame it on the insurance company – in most homeowner’s policies, there’s a clause saying that the homeowner has to take action to mitigate damage covered under the policy. So if a tree is wrecking the house, trim it back or cut it down. Let them deal with the insurer – who has a duty to defend the homeowner against claims covered by the homeowner’s policy…

  22. Jalbert says:

    Silly move by the city but could this possibly be the most boring man of all time. Not only does he listen to city council meetings on CD but he has spent the last 2 years fighting a legal battle over $4.04. Not to justify the city overcharging but sometimes I feel like you need to pick you battles. If the city had a better lawyer that could have justified the $5 price tag the guy would have been out over $3500.