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Arnold Councilman Questions City Attorney's Time

Arnold City Attorney Bob Sweeney attended the Creve Coeur red-light camera case to prepare for the class-action lawsuit against Missouri cities using red-light cameras.

Arnold Ward 1 Councilman Doris Borgelt criticized City Attorney Bob Sweeney’s billing and legal strategies in an email to constituents sent in December.

Specifically, Borgelt said Arnold tax payers were paying for Sweeney to attend Missouri Court of Appeals case regarding the use of American Traffic Solutions’ red-light traffic cameras in the City of Creve Coeur.

St. Louis County resident Mary Nottebrok appealed a court decision regarding Creve Coeur’s red-light policy to the Missouri Court of Appeals, Riverfront Times reported. The case began Oct. 5, 2011. Nottebrok’s attorney argued to the appellate court that the red-light cameras violated a person’s right to due process.

“We are paying for our attorney to attend and sit in the audience on cases that have nothing to do with the City of Arnold,” Borgelt wrote in her email.

In the email, Borgelt also said that Sweeney billed his presence at the appelate court case as attending a legal conference.

“What a way to boost those billable hours,” she wrote.

Sweeney said in an interview with Arnold Patch that the Creve Coeur court case can affect a separate class-action lawsuit against the City of Arnold and other Missouri cities that use red-light cameras.

Simon Law Firm, a St. Louis-based group, filed the legal complaint against Arnold, Creve Coeur, Ellisville, Florissant and Kansas City in August 2011.

“It’s important to know the legal arguments, tactics and strategies used in the Creve Coeur case, because they can ruin another attorney’s defense in a separate but similar case,” Sweeney said.

Instead of waiting for the appellate court’s decision, asking and billing for copies of attorney files, researching and studying the issues and forming a new strategy, Sweeney said, the numerous city attorneys decided to take a proactive attitude.

City Administrator Matt Unrein said he agreed to Sweeney's strategy and gave the needed approval.

In a conference call, city attorneys from Kansas City, Creve Coeur, Ellisville and Florissant agreed to attend the appellate case, listen to arguments, debrief at another location and then discuss their strategy for their class-action court case, Sweeney said.

"The work and the meeting were not done to help Creve Coeur, but to assist us in the preparation of the (class-action) matter," Sweeney said.

The team of attorneys saves Arnold taxpayers’ money because eight to 10 minds are generating tactics for the upcoming lawsuit but Arnold is paying for only one attorney, Sweeney said.

He also said that the councilman likely misread his itemized monthly bill sent to the City of Arnold.

“I live in a glass house. Everything I do as an attorney is transparent,” Sweeney said.

A copy of Sweeney’s bill to Arnold indicated no billing for mileage and travel time to Creve Coeur and the related meeting.

Michael de los Reyes January 18, 2012 at 04:40 PM
Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney F. Wegge verified that he did not write the comments posted earlier. I have removed the comments.
Peter Van Leunen February 01, 2012 at 05:21 PM
Perhaps Doris Borgelt would like to explain what she thinks the duties of the City Attorney are and to whom those duties are owed? Why would the City Counselor make his work transparent to the public? Why would he lay out his bill for those suing The City of Arnold to see? Mr. Sweeney represents the City, not its people. I think the good people of Arnold need to rethink someone's job here.
Matt Hay February 01, 2012 at 07:47 PM
Except for the fact that the "the City" is "its people" as municipalities derive under the 10th Amendment, their existence from the State, and from the People collectively. This fact is too often forgotten by many of those who act more as dictators, than representatives. While the City Attorney is not contracted to be an attorney for the citizens individually, he is contracted to represent the Council, and provide input and legal advice on matters before them, ultimately acting in a way which he/she feels is in the best interests of the Citizens of the City, which should be the ultimate goal of every action of the Council. Therefore, in a round about way, the citizens have indeed contracted him, via their representatives, to advise on legal matters. His role is not supposed to be to bury the dirty laundry, it is to advise against the soiling of said linens at the onset. That said, he is also bound by the Missouri Open Records Statutes, and must therefore be transparent to the public. As for your statement about laying out his bills for those filing lawsuits to see, not only are they required to be disclosed under Sunshine, but there is also discovery in those lawsuits to which you are referring, which is much more powerful than complying under Sunshine, which due to the inaction of the Attorney General's Office statewide on such issues, is basically voluntarily. Court Orders for discovery by those filing suits against the City and Council, not so much.
Peter Van Leunen February 01, 2012 at 09:02 PM
Meh...flapdoodlry at its best. City Attorneys do not post their bills online, because they owe their clients (City Councils and its various boards and commissions) a duty of confidentiality. I guess if the City Council wanted to post the legal bills online, then that would be their privilege to waive, if they can all agree on it. So, you're wrong. HE can't do it. And if his bills were requested in a request for production, well, that's an easy objection to argue.
Doris Borgelt February 01, 2012 at 11:52 PM
Mr. Van Leunen, Mr. Sweeney's bill should be included in the packet I receive as a council representative, I should not have to make a special request. If there is sensitive information on that bill, it should be as minimally redacted as possible, then the dates, hours billed and amount should be available along with the income, general and payroll warrants on line for all of the public to see. The more eyes that view those figures, the less chance of a mistake going by unnoticed or excessive amounts passing without question. Like I said at the very beginning, sunshine is the best disenfectant. I not only have a right, but also a responsibility to question anything that may appear questionable.

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