Franklin County’s staff attorney said this week he anticipates the county to come out on top in three pending lawsuits, but if he’s wrong the cost to the county could reach a quarter million dollars.
The county commission is facing a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union over previously conducted public prayers.
Another suit filed earlier this year was brought by three citizens who are opposed to how the commission executes contracts.
The third suit was filed last year in opposition to utility and nonutility landfill land use regulations approved by the county in 2011.
County Counselor Mark Vincent said the county’s chances of prevailing in two of the suits as “very good” and “excellent” in the third.
He said attorney’s fees for outside counsel for all of the cases combined should be under $15,000.
In the worst-case scenario, Vincent said, the county would be on the hook for legal fees for the ACLU, which he estimated around $200,000.
He estimated legal fees for all three cases wouldn’t exceed $250,000.
Presiding Commissioner John Griesheimer said the county has only spent $1,000 or less each in legal fees thus far for the landfill regulation lawsuit and the lawsuit filed by the three men.
“There is a belief out there that we’re exposed to a lot of damages and legal fees, and that’s not true,” Vincent said.
Commissioner Terry Wilson said the county has incurred some expenses in dedicating staff time to the lawsuits.
“We’re not getting other things done. It is costing us, in a roundabout way,” Wilson said.
Vincent told commissioners in a memo dated June 4 that there are no damages being sought in the oldest suit, Campbell v. Franklin County and Ameren Missouri.
“If Franklin County were to lose, the result would be to strike down regulations,” he said.
Vincent noted there would be social and economic costs involved, including a potential impact in the form of lost jobs if the landfill can’t be built.
The county also might lose some money if the county is unable to refinance its outstanding certificates of participation because of the suit filed by Art LeBeau, Eric Reichert and Ron Keeven.
The suit claims the county’s two associate commissioners are illegally ceding authority to the presiding commissioner in a previously approved commission order.
That order dealt with advancing the refinancing process.
LeBeau has repeatedly said the suit was not filed to prevent the county from refinancing the COPs, but all three of the men have been vocal opponents to the county’s use of the lease-back bonds as a form of indebtedness.
Vincent said the county could lose out on potential cost savings if refinancing is prevented temporarily and interest rates increase from their current levels. In his memo, Vincent said that a “worst case” estimate on that the potential loss would be $2,000,000.00 over the life of the bonds.
Last month, he filed a response to the suit asking for a $2 million bond to protect the county from any potential losses. A court date in that case has been set for Monday, June 18.
In December the commission approved making Vincent a full-time employee at a salary of about $115,000 per year. Previously he was paid about $60,000 a year as a contracted employee.