No answers yet in Fairview Heights legal fees questions
Although the suits ended months ago, questions remain unanswered about the city of Fairview Heights' four year battle with 13 online travel companies and what its attorneys took away.
City officials seem stumped, while the mayor has said he believes that the suits did not cost the city a dime. As yet, there has been no way to verify that claim.
The Madison County Record requested the settlement agreements from the city's suit and documents related to attorneys fees from Fairview Heights May 7 under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.
City Attorney Al Paulson released the settlement documents May 27.
Thus far, the Record has not received any documents related to what he and the others representing the city in the suits were paid.
The city netted about $315,000 from suits against companies including Orbitz, Expedia, Priceline.com, and Hotels.com. All parties were to bear their own costs, according to the settlements.
At this time, Fairview Heights has only received about $56,000 from Orbitz, the last defendant to settle. Officials in both the city Treasurer's office and City Clerk's office say the other settlement checks have not arrived yet.
The other defendants are slated to pay $60,000, $100,000 and $105,000 respectively.
The Orbitz check poses another question. According to the Orbitz settlement, the company was to pay the city $50,000. The check Fairview Heights received was for $56,733.68 from Orbitz. City officials have been unable to explain the anomaly.
City officials have also not been able to tell the Record what payment its attorneys have received. According to the City Clerk's office, billings from the attorneys representing Fairview Heights were not kept separate from the city's other legal fees.
That means if the city paid its attorneys anything for their work on the suits, city employees would have to dig through over four years of bills and go over each bill line by line to find the totals. Both the Treasurer's office and City Clerk's office said that Paulson would likely have billing records for his work on the case.
Several messages have been left at Paulson's office. They have not been returned as of press time.
Fairview Heights sued the online travel companies in 2004, claiming the companies owed it and other municipalities back hotel-motel room taxes. Fairview Heights attempted to gain class certification for the suit in which it would represent 50 other Illinois municipalities. The class action fell apart after reaching federal court. Fairview Heights pursued individual claims against the online travel companies.
There is no word yet as to how the city will use the money from its settlements.
Mayor Gail Mitchell has said previously that he would like to see it put back in the city's hotel-motel fund but that decision would be made upon a recommendation to the city council by the city's Finance Committee. The Finance Committee has not reviewed the matter as yet according to agendas posted on the city's Web site.
Paulson along with attorney Kevin Hoerner and St. Louis attorney Richard Burke represented Fairview Heights in the suits.