The Allegany County School Board and Cumberland Broadcasting Co. came to terms four months ago, but that doesn’t mean they’ve stopped fighting.
The operator of WCBC-AM sued the board last August, saying it cut access to high school football games in retaliation for critical coverage. After months of hostile out-of-court relations and stop-and-go litigation, the case settled in February. The board even agreed to pay the radio station’s legal fees, as determined by the court.
Then, it saw the $115,000-plus bill from Astrachan Gunst Thomas PC.
The board’s attorneys, Thomas J. Althauser and G. Gary Hanna, challenged the amount in court this month, calling the time entries “remarkably vague” and saying attorneys billed “a substantial amount of time…for what were clearly administrative tasks.” The motion also objected to bills for an amended complaint that was never filed.
The Astrachan firm fired back last week, defending its invoices against what it called “a blunderbuss attack” and demonstrating that there will be no love lost between the parties when this saga is finally over.
“Employing three law firms, defendants walked away from two settlements, and now have the temerity to assert that plaintiffs’ Motion to Enforce Settlement Agreement and Amended Complaint were unnecessary,” the plaintiff’s firm responded. “There is no question — and defendants tacitly concede — that, had plaintiffs not taken such action, this case would not have settled.”
The response notes that the latest bickering has only served to up the board’s bill. “Defendants’ misstatement of plaintiffs’ counsel time records necessitated this Reply, resulting in $11,752.00 of additional attorney time,” it says.
The Astrachan firm is now requesting a total of $129,350 in fees and $3,697 in expenses — plus $3,240 in expert witness fees for Baltimore civil rights attorney C. Christopher Brown, who was hired to confirm the reasonableness of the fees charged.
BRENDAN KEARNEY, Legal Affairs Writer