The Manchester Board of Aldermen holds a meeting twice a month. At each meeting, Manchester resident Pauline Barr asks Manchester City Attorney Patrick Gunn to list the number of lawsuits in which the city is involved.
“Mr. Gunn, what are the lawsuits pending for the city,” Barr asks like clockwork.
“The same as before,” Gunn responds at most meetings.
And even though Barr knows the lawsuits, she asks Gunn to list them for her at each meeting.
Barr tells Town and Country-Manchester Patch she believes it is important to know the the city’s legal affairs.
“It is our taxpayer money and it’s being wasted,” Barr said. “We have a lawyer that we pay very well, but because he doesn’t have the expertise, they say, we hire an outside firm.”
Patch decided to investigate the City of Manchester’s pending lawsuits and how much they are costing taxpayers. Patch readers can view many of the documents involved in this article in the PDF portion of the this article.
The Lawsuits And Their Cost
The city has been involved in at least four federal cases this year, according to the Federal Public Access to Court Electronic Records, (PACER) service.
The two most recent cases, both filed under Missouri’s Eighth District Federal Court, are Judy DeRose v. the city of Manchester and Adams v. the city of Manchester.
- Judy DeRose v. the City of Manchester:
According to court documents, DeRose worked as Director of Parks for the city for 22 years until April of 2008. DeRose claims she was allegedly fired because of her disability, age and gender. On May of this year, she sued the city on six counts, asking for a total of $5,000,000 in damages.
However, on Oct. 26 of this year, a federal district judge struck down five of the counts, allowing the case to proceed on only one count, which claims employment discrimination based on age, sex and protected disability. This case is still pending.
- Jessica Adams v. the City of Manchester:
The Adams case is a class-action lawsuit filed on July of this year by former Clerk Jessica Adams and former Manchester Police Sergeant Charles Everingham. According to court documents, Everingham worked for the Manchester Police Department through 2010, while Adams worked for the department as a records clerk from Oct. 2009 through July 2011. The lawsuit claims the city allegedly violated federal and state fair wages and labor standards on five counts and it is seeking $500,000 in damages. The case is still pending.
Both cases are currently being handled by the outside law firm Hinshaw and Culbertson LLP. Gunn tells Patch an outside firm was hired because those attorneys have more expertise in handling those type of cases.
Gunn said total costs of the lawsuits can not be determined until the cases have been resolved.
Patch obtained a copy of the contract between the City of Manchester and Hinshaw and Culbertson LLP. The costs range from $100 per hour for paralegals to $200 per hour for the lead attorney. It is not indicated in the paperwork how much the city has been billed to this date, it only lists the costs charged per hour. The total costs, however, will not be known until the cases have been settled.
The other two cases the City of Manchester is involved in are Jane Doe v. Nixon and Phelps v. Manchester.
- Jane Doe v. Nixon:
Jane Doe v. Nixon is a class action suit against the the state of Missouri and several municipalities, including Manchester. The suit was file on October of this year.
Manchester Ward One Alderman Paul Hamill, who also works as an attorney, tells Town and Country - Manchester Patch the case was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which contested a state statute prohibiting people on the sex offenders list from participating in certain Halloween activities. Hamill said the city has not incurred any significant expense as a result of this case because it is not directed against Manchester specifically.
The state statute requires sex offenders to do the following on Halloween: avoid all Halloween-related contact with children, remain inside their residence between the hours of 5 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. unless required to be elsewhere for an emergency, post a sign at their residence stating, “No candy or treats at this residence,” and leave all outside residential lighting off during the evening hours.
- Shirley Phelps v. the City of Manchester:
Shirley Phelps v. the City of Manchester was brought against the City of Manchester on October, 2010 by members of the Westboro Baptist Church and the ACLU. According to court documents, the suit was filed after the City of Manchester passed an ordinance prohibiting the protest and picketing near a funeral, due to previous Westboro Baptist Church protests elsewhere in Missouri and the country. The case went all the way to the Eighth Circuit Court of appeals where the judge found Manchester’s ordinance in violation of the church’s right to assemble.
Gunn and the law firm Lewis, Rice and Fingersh L.C. handled the case. Manchester City Clerk Ruth Baker stated in an email to Patch that there was no contract between Lewis, Rice and Fingersh L.C. and Manchester because the law firm was provided to the city and paid for by the city’s insurance company. Baker said Gunn provided some ancillary services. To date, invoices from Lewis, Rice and Fingersh L.C. total $13,533.
Manchester's City Attorney's Salary
Baker said the total salary for Gunn for the 2010 calendar year was $83,986 of which $30,900 was his 2010 retainer. For 2011, Baker said, the city expects to pay Gunn the same retainer of $30,900 and projects the excess retainer to be about $42,000, bringing his total salary to an estimated $72,900.
Check back to Town and Country - Manchester Patch for updates on the lawsuits and the city’s legal affairs.