County Pays Legal Fees For ACLU Prayer Case - The Missourian: Emissourian

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County Pays Legal Fees For ACLU Prayer Case

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Posted: Saturday, September 7, 2013 6:32 pm | Updated: 4:45 pm, Tue Sep 10, 2013.

By Josh Mitchell

Missourian Staff Writer

Even though the county commission originally said no taxpayer money was spent defending a prayer lawsuit, it appears there were some costs.

After the lawsuit was settled in July, the Franklin County Commission issued a news release that stated that the “county was able to defend the lawsuit and force a dismissal without any cost to the taxpayers of Franklin County.”

But since then there have been some legal fees surface.

Most recently, The Missourian obtained a list of legal charges totaling $1,912 that the county paid related to the lawsuit.

County Counselor Mark Vincent said he wrote the press release that stated the lawsuit was defended at no cost to the taxpayers.

However, on Friday Vincent said he forgot that there was a small amount of legal fees paid to assist with the case and that he stands corrected on his original statement.

Vincent said he is not aware of any other legal fees that the county will have to pay on the case.

The county commission approved paying the bill at its Aug. 27 meeting without any discussion.

The legal fees were for services provided by the law firm of Purschke, White, Robinson, Becker & Briegel of Union.

The list of legal fees dates from December 2012 to July 2013, when the suit was dismissed. The fees include various services such as reviewing emails from Vincent, reviewing motions and a conference call.

An anonymous plaintiff represented by the American Civil Liberties Union sued the county commission, alleging that Presiding Commissioner John Griesheimer led prayers that mentioned Jesus at meetings.

The lawsuit charged that the prayers violated the U.S. Constitution by aligning the county government with a particular faith.

In a prepared statement after the lawsuit was settled, Griesheimer said neither he nor the county violated the Constitution.

Once the lawsuit was settled, it was thought that the controversy over the prayer issue was settled. But then the legal fees became an issue.

County officials had previously stated that the county was defended in the lawsuit for no charge by the Alliance Defense Fund, which apparently did provide significant legal services in the case for no cost.

The first issue with the legal fees was over $4,572 paid to the law firm of Lewis, Rice & Fingersh to review the county’s new prayer policy and do some other legal work.

Vincent said that money was not spent on defending the lawsuit but rather on developing the new invocation policy.

Vincent said the commissioners wanted the law firm to review the invocation policy because that firm is specialized in First Amendment law.

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