Total lawsuit tab exceeds $400,000

The legal bills for the battle between the Grays Harbor Superior Court judges and the Grays Harbor County commissioners now exceed $400,000 — with the county’s share at $145,000 — and are likely to rise before year’s end.

The judges filed their lawsuit in Thurston County Superior Court in December, largely over concerns that the commissioners had overstepped their authority in making budget cuts to the court. Following the shooting of Sheriff’s Deputy Polly Davin and the stabbing of Judge Dave Edwards on March 9, concerns also heightened about courthouse security, which was mentioned as a secondary issue in the judges’ suit.

On Tuesday, the judges also filed a motion seeking a Thurston judge’s order for Grays Harbor to fulfill a promise from 1992 to build a third courtroom for the Superior Court. The Attorney General’s Office reports that $257,733 has been spent on a contract with Special Assistant Attorney General Scott Missall, who is representing the judges. That money is coming out of the state’s budget and is current as of the end of August.

Grays Harbor Budget Director Brenda Sherman said that the county has spent $145,000 as of the end of September on Special Deputy Prosecutor Thomas Fitzptarick and his partner Phil Talmadge, who are defending the county commissioners. That money comes out of the county’s general fund, used to pay for everything from deputies to appraisers.

Between both sides, more than $402,0000 has been spent on legal bills.

Sherman said the county’s legal billings have exceeded the $100,000 the commissioners had budgeted this year and recommended the commissioners budget another $70,000, if not more.

Sherman noted that the commissioners ought to include a line item in next year’s budget for legal billings, as well. She said the billings are adding up to $20,000 to $25,000 per month. In September, the billings were $24,000.

The Thurston County Superior Court has set a five-day trial for the case for June 17, 2013. For seven months of legal billings at $25,000 per month, the county would need to budget $175,000 next year at a time of declining revenues and increased expenditures across the board, and with many county departments asking for raises and extra personnel.