Monroe to pay remaining lawyer bills in lawsuit

By LESLIE MORIARTY

Herald Writer

MONROE — The legal bills for the defense of several council members in an open meetings violation lawsuit will be paid.

The city council has voted to pay the remaining bills, pushing the total amount paid to Short Cressman &amp Burgess of Seattle to $78,292.

Council members Marc Mechling, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, and Jim Hunnicutt voted not to pay the amount.

At previous meetings, a majority of council members voted not to pay because they were not allowed to see itemized billings. Attorneys said that would break attorney-client confidentially.

But last week, when council members were advised that the council sitting at the time the lawsuit was filed had contracted to pay for the legal services, the current council decided to pay the bills.

They saw summaries of the charges, but not the complete bills, council members said.

The lawsuit was filed by Marc and Meredith Mechling, who claimed that the council and Mayor Bob Holman met in closed session and made a decision to use city funds to issue a newsletter giving the city’s position on a sewer referendum vote.

Marc Mechling is now on the council. Only two of the council members named in the lawsuit remain on the panel, along with Holman, who is still mayor.

Those two council members are the only ones who have seen the detailed bills.

Councilwoman Donnetta Walser said she didn’t think the council had an option but to pay the bills, or possibly be sued for not paying them.

"I’m not happy with the whole thing," she said. "I don’t think we were given enough information to make a solid judgment on whether the city was correctly billed for the work that was done."

She said she is going to have the council look into how it contracts for legal services, should something like this come up in the future.

Council members said they have been told there are no more charges expected in this case. However, there is still a bill for $1,075 for July and August that hasn’t been paid.

The council also voted not to pay about $2,000 in charges listed as "preparing press release" and "speaking to the press."

"Those were the things we really questioned," Walser said. "A majority of us didn’t think that should be something we should pay lawyers for."

In the case, Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Anita Farris ruled that no violation of the open meetings law had occurred.

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