MARIETTA - Two Tuscarawas County residents and their attorney were found liable Tuesday for more than $307,000 in attorney fees, expenses and court costs paid by the city of Marietta related to a public records lawsuit case deemed "frivolous" by the Washington County Court of Common Pleas.
The suit, originally filed June 26, 2011, by Edward Verhovec of New Philadelphia, involved a public records request for approximately 3,300 cable TV survey cards that were returned to the city by customers in 1999.
Verhovec sought $1,000 for each document not produced (the maximum allowed by state law), which translates to an approximate total of $3.3 million.
Verhovec also filed similar suits against the City of Uhrichsville and the Village of Dennison on June 25, 2011.
A related suit, filed against Marietta by Dorothy Verhovec of Uhrichsville, seeking 20 years of city council records, including handwritten council clerk notes and other information, was dismissed by the Common Pleas Court earlier this year.
In the ruling issued Tuesday, Washington County Common Pleas Judge Susan Boyer said the lawsuits brought by the Verhovecs and their counsel, William Walker, Jr., of Massillon, were "... in bad faith, with knowledge that the only purpose of the suits was to obtain forfeiture awards, not the production of the requested documents."
The ruling continued that "... such action constitutes frivolous conduct which warrants the award of attorney fees and costs."
The overall bill included $291,392.50 in attorney fees with expenses of $13,819.35, as well as court costs of $1,796.16, totaling $307,008.01 owed by the Verhovecs and Walker.
Former Marietta Mayor Michael Mullen, under whose administration the lawsuits were filed, said justice was served by Tuesday's ruling.
"This was someone trying to take advantage of a gray area in the public records law," he said. "Everything we learned during this case and the large amount of taxpayer money the city spent on defense said this was a frivolous action that should be rejected."
Mullen, now a city councilman at-large, said the city has been persistent in seeking recovery of the money paid out for the lawsuit.
"And it looks like there were serial filings by the Verhovecs in other cities-all of no merit," he said. "They were obviously mining for a big payday. But I think justice has been served by the court's decision."