Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Fair Association Ordered to Pay $45K in Attorney Fees

Posted By on Wed, Jan 27, 2016 at 11:46 AM

click to enlarge Caroline and Stuart Titus. - FILE
  • File
  • Caroline and Stuart Titus.
A local judge has ordered the Humboldt County Fair Association to pay more than $45,000 in attorney’s fees to a Davis lawyer who successfully represented Ferndale Enterprise Publisher Caroline Titus in her public records lawsuit against the association.

Titus filed suit in April seeking access to the association’s financial records after multiple requests under the California Public Records Act went unanswered. After months of requests and a plea to Humboldt County First District Supervisor Rex Bohn proved fruitless, Titus retained attorney Paul Nicholas Boylan and filed suit.

In June, the association and Titus reached a settlement under which the association agreed to make its financial records open to the public, as is required by the association’s lease agreement with the county. Boylan then pursued attorney fees in excess of $100,000 for his work on the case.

In a written ruling filed last week, Humboldt County Superior Court Judge Dale Reinholtsen determined Boylan’s request exceeded the fair local market rate, which Reinholtsen put at $400 an hour. The judge consequently ordered the association to pay Boylan’s fees in the amount of $44,760 for the almost 1,112 hours he worked on the case “involving an important issue benefitting the public.” Additionally, Reinholtsen ordered that the association reimburse Titus and Boylan for $1,000 in costs they incurred bringing the case.

“What a shame that 18 HCFA board members, their general manager, their attorney and Bohn ignored our requests and forced us to seek a legal resolution,” Titus said in an email to the Journal. “The most important result of our case is that the fair signed a [memorandum of understanding], stating that all financial records will remain open to the public, per the terms of the lease … so no one will (hopefully) have to go through this again.”

Titus said Boylan offered to settle the fee claim back in July for $33,840, but the association’s attorney, Randy Andrada, who represents the California Fair Services Authority (which essentially acts as the association’s insurance carrier), made a counter offer of just $10,000. From there, the parties went to court.

For his part, Boylan said the association’s settlement stance in the case constituted a waste of taxpayer money. He estimated that Andrada likely billed the California Fair Services Authority as much as $40,000 while avoiding settlement and unsuccessfully opposing the Enterprise’s fee motion.

Boylan estimated that the entire affair cost the CFSA somewhere in the neighborhood of $85,000, some $51,000 more than his original settlement offer. "And," he added, "the entire failure was financed with public tax revenues in the form of dues from public agencies paid to CFSA.”

Humboldt County Fair Association Richard Conway did not immediately return a call seeking comment for this story.

Titus and her husband, Stuart, also recently received a separate $150,000 settlement from the HCFA in a federal First Amendment and wrongful termination lawsuit they brought against the association after its board voted 11-8 in 2013 not to renew Stuart’s contract as the association’s general manager, a position he’d held for 22 years. In the suit, the Tituses alleged that the board fired Stuart in retaliation for his unwillingness to keep Caroline from writing pieces in the Enterprise that made fair board members look bad, as well as his repeated reminders that the board should abide by state open meeting laws.

Editor's Note: In the interest of full disclosure, it should be noted that Paul Nicholas Boylan is currently representing the Journal in the city of Eureka's appeal of a local judge's ruling ordering a portion of a police dash camera video released to the public. Read more about that case here.
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