It could be some time before the city of Marietta sees the $307,000 for which Edward and Dorothy Verhovec and their attorney, William Walker Jr., were found liable last month-if the money has to be paid at all.
Meanwhile the city's costs in the case continue to rise. The Marietta auditor's office reported as of Thursday the city had paid out a total of $331,317 in attorney and court fees.
A ruling issued Nov. 13 by Washington County Common Pleas Judge Susan Boyer ordered the Verhovecs and Walker to pay a total $307,008 in attorney fees, expenses and court costs related to public records lawsuits that were filed against the city more than a year ago.
In the final ruling document, Boyer deemed the lawsuits frivolous and to have been filed in bad faith.
"It's my opinion that they will appeal the Nov. 13 decision," said Marietta Law Director Paul Bertram III.
But he said there's no way to know at this time whether an appeal will be filed.
"The judge's decision first has to be journalized by the court," Bertram said. "Once that's done there's a period of time in which the Verhovecs can file a notice of appeal."
Attorney Greta Kerns with the Squire Sanders Dempsey law firm in Columbus, which is providing counsel for the city in the case, said the appeal would have to be filed within 30 days of the court journal entry date.
"They have every right to appeal the common pleas court decision," she said. "If they choose to appeal there will be a period in which briefs are filed and the potential for an oral hearing before the court of appeals."
The original lawsuit, filed June 26, 2011, by Edward Verhovec of New Philadelphia, involved a public records request for approximately 3,300 cable TV survey cards that were returned to the city by customers in 1999.
After some searching the city eventually produced the records. But Verhovec sought $1,000 for each document not produced in what he considered a reasonable time (the maximum dollar amount allowed by state law), which translated to an approximate total of $3.3 million.
Because the documents were produced, that case was dismissed earlier this year.
Verhovec also filed similar suits against the City of Uhrichsville and the Village of Dennison on June 25, 2011. Those cases are still in initial litigation.
A related action, filed against Marietta by Dorothy Verhovec of Uhrichsville, sought 20 years of city council records, including handwritten council clerk notes and other information.
A summary judgment, issued against Dorothy Verhovec's lawsuit by the common pleas court, is currently under appeal and working its way through the Ohio Fourth District Court of Appeals where briefs are in the process of being filed on both sides.
Bertram noted if the Nov. 13 decision granting fees and costs to the city is also appealed, it would be handled separately from the original public records suit appeal.
"They would be essentially bifurcated appeals, although they're related to the same case," he said.
Bertram added that if the court of appeals rules in the city's favor, the Verhovecs would also have the right to submit the case to the Ohio Supreme Court.
A final resolution in the cases could take up to a year.
"Optimistically I would say at least nine months," Kerns said. "The summary judgment appeal is moving fairly quickly through the court. We just received a reply brief from that case. But no court hearings have been scheduled for the case at this time."
Once a resolution is reached, if the courts rule in Marietta's favor, it will likely take more time to collect the $307,008 in fees and costs the common pleas court has ruled are owed to the city.
Bertram said a collection process would have to be set up so that assets could be collected from the Verhovecs and Walker, which would include filing judgment documents with the counties in which they reside.
Bertram said it's possible the city could pursue additional attorney fees and court costs that will result from the Verhovecs' appeals, but it would require city council approval.