From The Cincinnati Enquirer

A Clearcreek Township man who sued trustees for holding secret meetings was awarded $500 in damages.

But a Warren County judge said Wednesday it will take him some time to decide if he’s going to force the township to pay up to $228,000 in fees to the winning attorneys.

Chris Finney, who represented resident Jack Chrisman since the suit was filed in 2011, said he had scaled back the legal bill by at least $20,000 and feels that its fair because of the expertise his firm has in handling public interest cases.

“There aren’t very many attorneys who do what we do,” Finney testified at Wednesday’s hearing.

Clearcreek’s attorney, John D. Smith, contended that Finney’s hourly charge of $415 was too high and questioned how Finney could charge for a dinner, as well as mileage he and associates traveled for depositions, court hearings and other meetings involving the case.

Taxpayers could get stuck paying the legal bill. A document obtained by The Enquirer shows that Clearcreek had by late January nearly reached its $50,000 claim limit through the Ohio Township Association Risk Management Authority for insurance that protects the township in lawsuits.

Common Pleas Judge James Flannery ruled in January following a two day trial that Clearcreek Township trustees had violated Ohio’s Open Meetings Act on multiple occasions when they attended informal meetings in the township administrator’s office prior to the public session to discuss agenda items and other matters.

Open meeting violations carry fines of up to $500 for each violation, plus attorney fees. Flannery has discretion to reduce or throw out attorney fees if he finds trustees reasonably believed they were not violating the law or that their actions served public policy.

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