Update on Ashland Whistleblower Verdict

Pieter Smeenk(Plaintiff) v City of Ashland(Defendant)

            Since the jury’s unanimous verdict was for the plaintiff, Mr. Smeenk, the City of Ashland must pay his attorney fees that occurred over two years.  The formality of the federal court requires a motion for attorney fees.  In that motion the attorneys present their costs to the court.

            Below are relevant excerpts from “Plaintiff Motion of Attorney Fees”:

(The monetary award to the plaintiff is $258,637.)

            “Counsels’ decision to take on the case was not without risk.  First, there is the inherent risk in any case of this nature.  The fee agreement with Mr. Smeenk was a contingent agreement, with Mr. Smeenk paying a small component of the total fee – capped at $6,000.  Thus, if counsel had been unable to secure a favorable verdict, the effort would have been all-but entirely fruitless.  This factor supports the award of all fees sought.”

            “…(the risk) is particularly true given that the City of Ashland mounted a vigorous defense of this case and not once made an effort to settle.  In that regard, shortly after his firing, Mr. Smeenk asked for his job back, and offered to refrain from pursuing a civil action if the City would reinstate him.  The City did not even bother to respond to that offer, let alone make any counteroffer to resolve the dispute at that stage.  Then, in a letter dated December 21, 2018, approximately three weeks before the hearing on Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment, Plaintiff again made an offer of compromise, opening with $415,000 inclusive of attorney fees.  Again, the City of Ashland did not even bother to make a counter offer.  The City’s unreasonable refusal to engage in any settlement negotiations justifies a full award of fees.”

            “Consistent with its unwillingness to engage in any reasonable settlement discussions, the City implemented a full-scale, costly defense approach, which included engaging in thorough and complete discovery, filing a significant (and unsuccessful) dispositive motion against all claims, and otherwise making every effort to defeat this claim.  It made no hint through the course of this litigation that it had any inclination to resolve the case short of trial.  This factor also supports the award of all fees sought.”

            “It is important to note that not only did the City of Ashland act unreasonably in illegally terminating Mr.Smeenk in retaliation for reporting his legitimate whistleblowing concerns, but those concerns were ultimately born out.  Rather than thank him, the City fired him.  Mr. Smeenk saved the citizens of Ashland significant sums of public monies at the cost of his own career.   The City should be required to pay all of Mr. Smeenk’s attorney fees based on its unreasonable conduct of terminating Mr. Smeenk in retaliation for his raising legitimate and well-founded issues of public concern.  This Court should also award Mr. Smeenk his full amount of fees in order to deter future violations of the public whistleblower protection law, by the City of Ashland and other public entities.”

            The attorney fees are $413,083 plus the plaintiff award of $258,637 costs to be paid by the City of Ashland.  The City is appealing the verdict to the judge at this point in time.  Watch the Chronicle for updates.

Source:  PLAINTIFF’S MOTION OF ATTORNEY FEES found on Pacer Monitor

Chronicle Staff