Judge: City of Watertown should pay $10,000 in legal fees over Finn Report case

Judge: City of Watertown should pay $10,000 in legal fees over Finn Report case
Former Watertown City Manager Rick Finn (Source: WWNY)

WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) - State Supreme Court Judge James McClusky has ruled that the City of Watertown should have to pay $10,395 in legal fees connected to the legal work in getting the Rick Finn report released to the public.

The law firm representing WWNY-TV’s owner, Gray Media Group, had asked for a good deal more – nearly $121,000.

WWNY took the city to court last year, after it repeatedly denied our requests to see that report, one conducted after now-fired Parks and Recreation Superintendent brought forward claims of a hostile work environment against Finn. Finn was Watertown’s former City Manager, who resigned after city lawmakers got their closed door look at the report.

WWNY and Gray Media Group won its case, and the city was forced to release the Finn report.

It dismissed many of Gardner’s claims as exaggerated or not violations of city policy, but it also found Finn wasn’t fully honest with investigators. It determined that Finn did violate city non-discrimination and harassment policy with the way he treated female workers. The report concluded that Finn’s conduct toward some female employees was “intimidating and offensive.”

In a decision Friday, Judge McClusky ruled that the city should pay only a fraction of the legal fees the team representing WWNY requested.

McClusky determined that the rates presented by our law firm, Ballard Spahr LLP, were “far in excess of the prevailing rates in Jefferson County and the entire Fifth Judicial District.”

The judge also wrote that our lawyers spent too much billable time on research and preparation of the fee application, oral arguments, and reargument.

“The Court is also concerned with a billing structure wherein two attorneys discuss the case with one another and each bills for the time,” Judge McClusky wrote. “This appears to have occurred several times.”

Watertown Mayor Jeff Smith had said the initial ask of about $120,000 in legal fees seemed excessive and was “kind of gouging the taxpayers of the city of Watertown.”

On Friday, Smith said, “120-thousand to 10-thousand, that’s a huge difference. I leave it to the public to figure out what’s going on there.”

When asked if the city will pay the $10,395 in legal fees, Smith said city council will have to discuss the matter.

Attorneys from Ballard Spahr say in this case, the fact that Judge McClusky awarded fees indicates that WWNY and Gray Media Group were entitled to the Finn report and the city had no good faith basis to withhold it in the first place.

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