By Tom Travis
This story has been updated to include three attorneys’ names and the amounts each have billed the City of Flint for attorney fees. Also, EVM has obtained responses from Eric Mays and Mayor Neeley concerning the judge’s sanction, included below. This article has been updated on March 14 to reflect the details of U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman’s written order.
Councilperson Eric Mays (1st Ward) was sanctioned Wednesday by U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman for attorney fees in Mays’ most recent lawsuit against the City of Flint, city officials and his colleagues on the Flint City Council. Judge Friedman granted the sanction Wednesday after Assistant City Attorney William Kim filed the motion seeking attorney fees earlier in April.
According to an order issued by Judge Friedman on Friday, May 14 the total amount of attorney fees Mays is required to pay back is $34,975. The order explains the specific amounts for each attorney. $13,500 will be awarded Attorney Kim, $6,500 will be awarded to Attorney Wolf and $6,500 will be awarded to Attorney McWilliams.
According to initial documents filed in U.S. District Court Thursday, Assistant City Attorney Kim, Attorney Melvin McWilliams and Attorney Barry Wolf filed a motion for attorney fees on behalf of Duvarl Murdock, Councilpersons Herbert Winfrey, Monica Galloway, Maurice Davis, Eva Worthing, Jeri [sic] Winfrey-Carter, Allan Griggs, Kate Fields and Santino Guerra, along with Mayor Sheldon Neeley, The City of Flint and Chief Legal Officer for the City of Flint Angela Wheeler.
Eric Mays responds to judge’s sanction
“Who is the judge’s order asking to pay the attorney fees? Me or my attorneys?” Mays said when contacted by EVM for his response Thursday.
“If the judge felt that my lawyers should’ve knew that it was frivolous – I don’t know that they had immunity. But my lawyers should’ve knew it, if it is true,” Mays said. He said he plans to work with his lawyers to explore appeal options.
Mayor Neeley responds to judge’s sanction
“This verdict is a win for all the hardworking men and women in our community. We are so thankful Judge Friedman protected our tax dollars by ordering the repayment of the reasonable costs and fees incurred by the City in defending against this lawsuit,” Neeley said in a statement released Thursday afternoon.
“We remain concerned, however, that this lawsuit was just one of the tactics used to waste the City’s time and resources. Hundreds upon hundreds of work hours are being devoted to dealing with the City Council’s dysfunction.
“We pray this verdict is a wakeup call to those few obstructionist council members who are supporting constant disruptions and costly delays. In this critical time in our country and in our community, we need to come together. The judge’s verdict should be viewed as a call to rise higher, to serve with civility and to work in the best interest of the people at all times,” Neeley said.
Three attorneys’ bills total more than $37,000
Court documents indicate that Assistant City Attorney Kim is representing The City of Flint, Sheldon Neeley, Angela Wheeler and William Metcalf. Attorney Barry Wolf, of Flint, is representing city employee Duvarl Murdock.
Attorney Melvin McWilliams of Lansing, is representing eight members of the city council (Davis, Guerra, Fields, Winfrey-Carter, Winfrey, Galloway, Griggs and Worthing). Attorney Steven Haney of Eastpoint, MI is representing Mays.
Between Oct. 7, 2020 and April 1, 2021 Attorney Kim billed the City of Flint for 74 hours. It is unclear from court documents what rate these hours were billed. The court documents cite three “median” attorney fees in the State of Michigan ranging between $200, $250 and $305 per hour. In the court documents Attorney Wolf states he is charging the City of Flint on behalf of Murdock $230/hour for attorney fees. Between Oct. 7, 2020 and Feb. 28, 2021, Wolf billed the City of Flint $13,788.60 for attorney fees.
Attorney McWilliams, representing eight city council members, billed the City of Flint for 36.5 hours at a rate of $250/hour and $70/hour for a legal assistant. McWilliams billed the City of Flint $8,675 for attorney fees.
Judge says Mays was thrown out of meeting “because of his own behavior”
In March, Judge Friedman threw out Mays’ case against the City of Flint and the defendants listed above. Mays sued the City for $1 million after he was removed from a city council meeting claiming his constitutional rights had been violated. However, U.S. District Court Judge Friedman said in his dismissal that not only is the City protected by legislative immunity, but also noted that Mays was removed from the meeting because of his own behavior.
“(Plaintiff Mays) was removed from council sessions and ‘muted’ during the Zoom call as a disciplinary measure. A review of the transcripts of these four sessions, copies of which are attached to defendants’ motion as Exhibits E, F, G, and H, shows that on each occasion this action was taken because plaintiff was being argumentative and disruptive,” Judge Friedman wrote in his case dismissal.
Cost is $24,000 to Flint taxpayers for defending against Mays
Representatives of the City of Flint’s Legal Department estimated the cost of defending against the lawsuit was at least $24,000. It is at least the second time Mays has filed a lawsuit that was thrown out. A 2019 lawsuit also was dismissed; that case cost the City about $20,000 to defend itself.
This is a developing story and EVM will continue to follow it and keep the community updated.
EVM Managing Editor Tom Travis can be reached at email@example.com.
EVM reporter Melodee Mabbitt assisted with this article. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.