Written by: Michael Phillips
A Financial Odyssey Unfolds
AUGUSTA COUNTY, VIRGINIA - Witness the commencement of a financial odyssey, marking the beginning of what may spiral into an extravagant display of legal extravagance. The Augusta County Board of Supervisors finds itself at the heart of a legal spectacle involving the FOIA lawsuits filed by Breaking Through Media and Augusta Free Press. These lawsuits, centered around the demand for the release of a recording from a March 20 closed-door meeting, have put the county on a path that could lead to an overwhelming financial burden.
Judicial Backdrop: A Judge's Decisive Ruling
Judge Wilson's ruling in favor of Augusta Free Press, declaring Seaton's March 20 recording a public record, set the stage for what is now unfolding. His support for Breaking Through's claim against the Board's alleged illegal closed session only adds to the gravity of the situation.
Financial Burden: Taxpayers Foot the Bill
Revelations from the latest meeting on January 24, 2024, highlight a concerning narrative: county taxpayers are unwittingly underwriting a potentially costly legal escapade. The Board’s decision to contest Judge Wilson’s ruling using county tax dollars, amidst a conspicuous absence of legal rationale, signals the onset of a financial odyssey. While the initial figures might seem modest, they are but a prelude to a symphony of expenditures that could crescendo to well over $100,000, placing a significant burden on the shoulders of Augusta County's residents. This concern is further compounded by the County's recent admission that a previous appeal had already cost more than $80,000, with the appeal still pending.
Legal Expenditures: A Breakdown of Costs
Breaking Through has obtained an initial legal bill from the outside law firm representing the County in the Breaking Through Media FOIA case, a mere precursor to a potentially staggering tabulation of fees. The charges listed below, while seemingly minute in isolation, reflect only a few days of fees in this case, fees that could see these 'droplets' of expense flood into a sea of financial liability for the county:
The Ten-Minute Glance ($25.00): If a ten-minute review costs $25, imagine the cumulative expense of comprehensive document analysis over the course of this legal saga.
Drafting with a Dash of Flair ($25.00 for ten minutes): At $25 for a mere ten minutes of drafting, the financial toll of preparing detailed legal documents for hearings and appeals could be astronomical.
The Silent Mime Call ($25.00 for ten minutes): If a ten-minute call can set the county back $25, consider the extensive telephonic consultations likely needed in the preparation for complex legal proceedings.
The Magical Research Ritual ($175.00 for 42 minutes): With legal research priced at $175 for less than an hour, the extensive investigative work required for a thorough defense or prosecution could lead to a small fortune.
The Blink-and-Miss Drafting ($25.00 for ten minutes): Should ten minutes of drafting cost $25, the exhaustive compilation of legal briefs and motions for an extensive case could reach staggering sums.
Juggling Communications ($25.00 for ten minutes): When a brief interaction costs $25, the total cost of ongoing communications between legal teams, clients, and other stakeholders throughout the case could be significant.
High-Wire Review and Analysis ($200.00 for 48 minutes): Considering a 48-minute review costs $200, the meticulous analysis required for an entire case, including preparation for hearings and appeals, could escalate to an exorbitant amount.
Conversing with the Court ($25.00 for ten minutes): With a mere ten-minute court conversation costing $25, the expenses tied to court engagements, especially in lengthy or complicated legal battles, could be immense.
Conclusion: The Price of a Pointless Legal Spectacle
As the Augusta County Board of Supervisors orchestrates this legal spectacle, taxpayers are left to ponder the true cost of this performance. While the curtain has just risen on this fiscal drama, the eventual costs, as the recent appeal indicates, could rival the most lavish of productions. It's a narrative where the early billing entries might soon be dwarfed by a towering invoice, turning these initial charges into mere footnotes in a voluminous saga of expenditure. And the apparent goal, assuming the County's appeal isn't being taken in complete bad faith, would be to convince the Court it was wrong just four years ago, when they issued a ruling in a similar case requiring records from a closed session meeting to be released, because the meeting wasn't close properly.
So, dear taxpayers, brace yourselves. This legal pageant of peculiarity is far from delivering its final act, and the price of admission is coming straight from your pockets. As the story unfolds, it becomes imperative for the stakeholders, the taxpayers of Augusta County, to demand transparency and accountability, ensuring that this legal journey doesn’t turn into an unaffordable odyssey.