Lawsuit costs Warren $175,000

Money has gone to law firm to help in defense

WARREN — A lawsuit filed against the city and Patriot Water by an environmental group is already costing the city’s Water Pollution Control Department $175,000 in legal fees, according to city records.

The law firm of Frost, Brown and Todd LLC was hired by the city Sept. 13 to represent it in the lawsuit filed by the Freshwater Accountability Project in June. The suit claims Patriot and the city have been violating different aspects of the Clean Water Act over a four-year period.

An outside law firm was hired by the city to handle this lawsuit because Law Director Gregory Hicks said his office does not have anyone with the expertise to handle environmental law.

The city has received three purchase orders totaling $175,000 from the firm. It paid the firm $17,131.63 on Oct. 25. Two other invoices totaling $52,784.50 are scheduled to be paid by the city.

Attorney Megan M. Hunter, representing Freshwater Accountability Project, on Oct. 3, filed paperwork with the court stating she expected the lawsuit to cost the plaintiff an estimated $269,000 in attorney fees and other costs.

“We know this will be an extremely high bill to fight this lawsuit,” Councilwoman Helen Rucker, D-at Large said. “We want to focus on how high the bill is projected to be to continue to fight this.”

Councilman John Brown, D-3rd Ward, voted against an ordinance last week that allowed Water Pollution Control to pay Frost, Brown and Todd LLC an additional $35,324 for the lawsuit.

“I was concerned about the unrestricted spending council is allowing on the lawsuit,” Brown said.

Councilman Eddie Colbert, D-at large, council’s finance chairman, said the amount invoiced so far is in line with what council was told would be spent for the lawsuit.

“We now want to know what are the new cost projection,” he said. “What are the factual numbers?”

On Nov. 8, Stephen P. Samuels, representing Frost, Brown and Todd LLC, filed a motion with U.S. Federal Court Judge Benita Y. Pearson asking her to dismiss counts six through eight of the lawsuit against the city because attorneys representing Freshwater have failed to prove they apply to this particular lawsuit.

“The Clean Water Act does not allow citizen suits against Warren (or any other city) to force wholesale changes in its administration of its sewer pre-treatment program, but only allows actions to enforce the terms of National Discharge Elimination Systems permits,” Samuels wrote in his motion.

“In the United States, about 750 compounds have been listed as additives for hydraulic fracturing,” Samuels wrote in a Nov. 8 court filing. “The oil and gas waste that Patriot treats could have any number of them.”

Samuels noted said Freshwater failed to point out specific provisions in Warren’s permit that requires it to establish specific limits for each additive. Samuels said the counts are well outside the scope of citizen lawsuits.