As former and current city leaders deal with legal woes concerning accusations they violated the open meetings law on two occasions, other lawsuits involving the city are moving toward trial.
The Citizens for Open Government versus the city of Clinton trial will begin at 9 a.m. Sept. 25.
This lawsuit was filed by a group of citizens seeking information about closed sessions conducted by the council in connection with discussion of a 2010 EMS settlement in which the city agreed to pay $4.5 million over 10 years.
The petition was filed in March after local group Citizens for Open Government recruited the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa in an attempt to shed light on a series of closed session Clinton City Council meetings in the months leading up to the settlement.
The goal of the lawsuit is to compel the city of Clinton to release the requested records, detailed minutes and recordings in regard to discussions involving a 2008 lawsuit filed under the False Claims Act by former Clinton Firefighter Tim Schultheis, who claimed routine city ambulance calls were improperly billed as urgent.
He said this was done by the fire department to achieve a higher reimbursement rate from Medicare.
The City Council voted to pay the settlement in September 2010 rather than face up to a possible $100 million in fines.
Following the settlement, then-Fire Chief Mark Regenwether and EMS Director Andrew McGovern were fired and subsequently rehired. The city began making yearly payments of $450,000, with 30 percent going to Schultheis.
This settlement was discussed during a series of closed session City Council meetings in 2009 and 2010. While Iowa Code allows public entities to enter closed session to discuss ongoing litigation and legal strategy, some members of the community expressed feelings that enough time has passed and that those discussions should be made available for public scrutiny.
Formal requests have been submitted to view the records, but were denied by City Attorney Jeff Farwell, who cited attorney-client privilege.
The city also is suing the attorney and his firm who represented the city of Clinton's interests following Schultheis’ legal action. That trial date is set for 9 a.m. Sept. 30, 2013. The city filed that lawsuit in March, alleging that as a result of attorney Michael Walker's negligent representation, the city settled the case for $4.5 million when the actual damages were only at most $108,000 over a six-year period, from 2002-2008.
City officials maintain that his firm, Hopkins and Heubner, which has offices in Des Moines and Davenport, negligently failed to properly analyze that case,negligently failed to conduct necessary pretrial discovery, negligently failed to properly advise the city about its realistic financial exposure, and negligently advised the council to settle the case at an unrealistically high amount. The city is seeking $3 million in damages.