Casco prevails in court, but faces fees

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

CASCO — Despite favorable court rulings, the Town of Casco faces some hefty legal expenses — more than $18,000 — from three separate cases.

The most expensive lawsuit against the town, which was filed by Jeannine Oren, went before the Superior Court in early August. But, the judge’s ruling was delayed until September.

In that Superior Court case, Oren took the town to task over failure to comply with a Freedom of Information Access (FOIA) Act request.

During a phone interview on Wednesday, Oren said the purpose for the lawsuit was to gain access to the auditor’s worksheets from the company Purdy Powers.

“The judge ruled in favor of the town in that the justice ruled that the documents were not public. I would not be able to access them,” she said.

“I am going to continue to pursue this. What I would like to do is work with the Maine State Legislature to require municipalities to turn over the auditor’s worksheets,” Oren said.

A law already exists that requires the licensee (Purdy Powers) to furnish documents to the client, she said. Currently, that law is not enforced, she said.

“The town of Casco chose not to purchase them. I merely wanted to review and access these documents,” she said.

Oren wants to push for future legislation that would require all municipalities to accompany audits with worksheets and engagement letters.

“It would greatly benefit all taxpayers. There needs to be more eyeballs on the auditor worksheets and the auditor’s engagement letters,” she said.

Shortly after the court hearing and before the judge had decided on the case, Casco Town Manager Dave Morton pondered over a possible Catch-22.

He said if the judge ruled in Oren’s favor, the town would have to supply the auditors’ worksheets from an audit performed for the 2010–11 fiscal year. However, the town does not possess a copy of the auditors’ worksheets, Morton said. He added that according to the FOIA Act, government entities are not required to generate new paperwork to fulfill a request for information.

During a recent Casco Board of Selectmen meeting, Morton said, “The town has no recourse under the law to recover expenses even though the town prevailed.”

In the town’s budget there exists a Legal Fees Account, which is approximately $15,000, according to Morton.

“That normally covers us for the whole year. During the Special Town Meeting in January, we will ask voters for additional funds,” he said.

The bill stemming from Oren versus the Town of Casco totals $15,220, according to Morton. That legal cost is capped at that amount because “the period for appeal to the State Law Court has passed,” he said.

Another court case — which is ongoing — has cost the town $1,950 so far, Morton said.

Resident Bill Horton filed a suit to reverse the decisions of the Casco Planning Board and the Casco Zoning Board of Appeals that will allow a cell tower to be constructed near his home on Spiller Hill.

Horton, a member of Casco’s Planning Board, recused himself during the board’s review of a proposed AT&T cell tower.

Horton appealed the recent court decision to the State Law Court, and that lawsuit is pending.

The third legal issue involving the town was brought forward by resident Jennifer Murray. According to Morton, the court dismissed the case after both parties came to an agreement. The cost of that lawsuit was $840.

Please follow and like us: