Algonquin Township highway commissioner's lawyer pursuing payment denied by board

Algonquin Township highway commissioner’s lawyer pursuing payment

The $400-an-hour Woodstock attorney representing Algonquin Township Highway Commissioner Andrew Gasser wants to get paid.

Responding to the township board’s rejection of $35,000 in legal bills he submitted to the road district, Robert Hanlon wrote a letter to Gasser on Dec. 13 accusing Trustee Melissa Victor of “petty vindictiveness” and township attorney James Kelly of a “lack of knowledge.”

“There is no defense to a breach of contract that says the board didn’t like it; they don’t have to like it, and they don’t have the power to contract for the road district,” wrote Hanlon, who revealed that he is preparing “legal paperwork” to compel the board to pay Gasser’s bills. “So, more legal expense is foreseeable.”

Hanlon and Gasser could not be reached for comment.

Mounting fees

Hanlon’s latest bills total $34,980. In one example, on July 15, the attorney billed the highway department $7,760 for work related to a lawsuit between Gasser and the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150.

On July 10, Hanlon billed the department two hours ($800) for his preparation for court.

For traveling to and from a Waukegan courthouse, he billed $1,080.

For one item on the same day, he did not charge Gasser, noting “N/C” – “no charge” – for 15 minutes of work described as “Email to Little Eddie NWH re false statements.”

Since June 2017, Hanlon’s firm has billed the road district more than $400,000. The bills have accounted for a large portion of the hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorney fees that mounted in multiple lawsuits. Those have included a labor battle between the highway department and Local 150, a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit and an in-house fight involving Gasser and township Clerk Karen Lukasik. In August, Gasser’s lawsuit seeking to invalidate a union contract his predecessor signed was dismissed.

In November, Local 150 lawyers filed a court document asking for attorney fees to be paid.

The filing revealed how much Hanlon’s firm has charged in the labor case compared with attorneys on the union’s side.

“The rate for Local 150’s attorney’s fees is reasonable,” the filing said. “The reasonableness of Local 150’s rates is further demonstrated by the fact that the road district paid its primary attorney $375 per hour for his work on this case, which totaled $374,845.82 through June 6, 2018.”

Local 150’s attorneys billed $211,445 for legal fees.

‘Bad faith’

On Dec. 12, Algonquin Township officials rejected Hanlon’s bills for a second time in as many months.

Victor motioned to pull the $34,980 in bills. Trustee Dan Shea seconded the motion. The move passed, 2-1.

“This lawyer is taking advantage of the township and the road district,” Victor said.

Shea called the legal spending “irresponsible.”

Trustee Dave Chapman described the legal spending as “reprehensible.”

“The consequence of the road district of the board’s conduct in approving of my hiring and then refusing to pay for work performed constitutes bad faith for which the road district will now incur the additional expense of my fees for all of my work, not just the portion that the board desires,” Hanlon wrote in the letter dated Dec. 13.

Hanlon wrote that he had been “gracious” with his billing of the road district by “providing hourly rate discounts as a courtesy” to Gasser.

In May 2017, Gasser hired Hanlon, who donated $1,000 to Gasser’s campaign, at a rate of $375 an hour to represent the road district. Hanlon’s standard rate is $400 an hour, but he noted on bills that the price was reduced to $375 “as a courtesy” to Gasser.

A year later, the discount went away.

Hanlon’s rate jumped to $400 after the exit of Washington, D.C., labor attorney Michael Avakian, who assisted Hanlon for $515 an hour. Avakian withdrew as an attorney in the union battle to join the U.S. Department of Labor under Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta.

“As you know,” Hanlon wrote to Gasser in December, “I ended the practice of billing at a reduced rate after members of the township board expressed animus at me for doing the work that I was hired to do. Moving forward, I will be billing for all work completed.”

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