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Open Door violation not worth $8K, COA rules

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A group of petitioners who prevailed on an Indiana Open Door Law violation will get reimbursed for attorney fees, but the amount will be reduced by nearly $5,000 after a trial court found the group was requesting money for work unrelated to the claim.

Dianne and William Ross and Martha Jane and Paul Milhouse filed a complaint with the Indiana public assess counselor following the Bartholomew County Drainage Board’s impromptu visit to inspect a berm constructed along the roadway.

The public access counselor held the drainage board did violate Indiana’s Open Door Law when it traveled to the berm site without giving proper public notice.

A trial court awarded attorney fees for the violation in accordance with Indiana Code 5.14.1.5-7.

Although the Rosses and the Milhouses had filed two affidavits requesting fees totaling $8,586.25, the trial court reduced the award to $3,766. The court ruled the petitioners were including fees for other services unrelated to the Open Door Law violations.

The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s finding in Dianne M. Ross, William L. Ross, Martha Jane Milhouse and Paul David Milhouse v. Bartholomew County Drainage Board and Stephen A. Hoevener, Jim Pence, Ron Speaker, Jeff Schroer, and Carl Lienhoop, 03-A01-1210-PL-489.

The Court of Appeals ruled the petitioners had requested fees for work that was not part of the Open Door Law violation, including fees for a claim they subsequently dismissed.

The drainage board also filed an appeal of the attorney fee award, arguing the fees should be reduced to a nominal amount because the violations were unintentional, the board took corrective action, and the violation had no adverse impact. The Court of Appeals did not issue a ruling, concluding that would constitute a reweighing of evidence which is prohibited.

 
 

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