CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - The WBTV Investigates team is finally getting the answers they’ve been pushing for after months of stonewalling from Mecklenburg County. WBTV Investigates submitted several records requests trying to find out how much attorneys representing the county were being paid defending county commissioners in an active lawsuit.
Attorney Jim Cooney and the law firm Womble, Bond, Dickinson are defending Mecklenburg County Commissioners in a lawsuit brought by Mecklenburg County Republicans.
Emails obtained by WBTV show some county commissioners emailing details and motions about amendments to the recently passed county budget. Commissioner Pat Cotham called into question whether emails sent between commissioners before the budget straw vote might have violated open meeting laws.
WBTV Investigates sent several records requests to the county asking for records showing how much they were paying Cooney and other attorneys at Womble, Bond Dickinson.
Initially the county didn’t provide WBTV with invoices related to the lawsuit but eventually they WBTV was given two invoices related to the open meeting lawsuit. All together the county has been billed $43,840 for the open meeting lawsuit to date. The law firm has been representing the county in this matter for three months.
But the county didn’t provide all the information that was requested. WBTV also asked to receive documentation showing the rate that the attorneys were charging county taxpayers.
In an email to WBTV Mecklenburg County Attorney Tyrone Wade claimed the rate the attorneys were being paid was proprietary information.
But after WBTV asked for proof that information was protected from released the county sent another copy of the engagement letter between with Womble, Bond Dickinson.
The county receives a discounted rate, according to the released letter. Attorney Jim Cooney charges $400, Clark Goodman $400 and Sean Perrin $250.
Court records obtained by WBTV show that the county and its attorneys claim the county and commissioners are immune from a lawsuit. They also claim the emails mentioned in the lawsuit do not constitute a meeting under North Carolina law.
The lawsuit is not scheduled to go to trial until May 2020.