Attorney fee request irks LEBOR supporters

Larry Limpf

After a recent ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Jack Zouhary that invalidated the Lake Erie Bill of Rights, its supporters are voicing their frustration with a request for attorney fees by the law firm that won the case.
The law firm, Voys, Sater, Seymour and Pease has filed a motion seeking $293,752 in fees and $532.50 in costs from the City of Toledo, which defended the LEBOR that was passed in February 2019 as a ballot initiative. Had it stayed in effect, LEBOR would have amended the city charter to give the lake recognition as an ecosystem with the right to “exist, flourish and naturally evolve.”
Drewes Farms Partnership, represented by the law firm, filed a challenge to the initiative the day after it passed and was later joined by the state in the legal battle. Attorneys for the city defended the initiative.
“I predict that the judge will realize that principles of local democracy and the city’s right and obligation to protect all the people will prevail over the plaintiff’s insistence on being rewarded for picking a fight it had little reason for starting,” Terry Lodge, an attorney with the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, said.
The CELDF helped Toledo residents draft the ballot initiative and overcome efforts by business groups and others to prevent it from reaching the ballot.
“LEBOR was enacted in response to a public water crisis. It established an enforceable human right to water,” said Markie Miller, of Toledoans for Safe Water. “Now, as our government is dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, the plaintiffs are attempting to collect scarce and necessary funds to punish us for defending our water. The corporate plaintiff (Drewes) did not suffer any direct harm from LEBOR and it was their decision to hire a law firm that charges over $500 per hour to sue the city after LEBOR was approved by voters. Most people cannot afford such high-priced legal counsel to defend their rights”
In its memorandum requesting the fees, the law firm states, “the city’s litigation tactics complicated and prolonged the dispute” including seeking documents during the discovery process that were “entirely unrelated to standing.”
In addition, there were no “special circumstances” in the case that would render an award of attorney fees unjust, the memorandum says.”Therefore Drewes Farms is entitled to an award of reasonable attorney’s fees…”
Judge Zouhary ruled LEBOR was “unconstitutionally vague and exceeds the power of municipal government in Ohio.”
A spokesman for mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz said the city’s attorneys are weighing legal options and haven’t made a decision to appeal the verdict or not.


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