PORTSMOUTH – An attorney representing Bill Moody is dropping a lawsuit against the city that stems from a fine imposed on the councilman.
Attorney Kevin Martingayle said Portsmouth is paying him $10,000 – a “discounted” fee for his legal services. In return, Martingayle filed paperwork in Portsmouth Circuit Court on Wednesday to dismiss the suit.
The settlement comes a few weeks after the City Council killed a rule used by members to fine Moody $1,500 last year over publicly discussing the content of closed sessions.
Martingayle said his client didn’t seek compensation for the fee, just reimbursement of legal fees and court costs.
“He simply didn’t believe the rule or vote to fine him was legal,” Martingayle said. “He proved the vote was illegal, and then the council wisely abandoned the rule.”
Moody was fined in January 2016, when he was notified in a letter signed by five councilmen.
The suit, filed in April, called for a judge to determine whether council members violated open meeting requirements by fining him like that. Two months later, Circuit Judge Catherine Hammond ruled the council violated the Freedom of Information Act.
“We don’t believe they’ll make that mistake again,” Martingayle said.
City Attorney Solomon Ashby declined to speak about the case, and attempts to reach a lawyer who was apparently contracted to handle the lawsuit were unsuccessful.
The suit also called for a judge to declare the council’s rule unconstitutional, enacted without authority and not to be used again. Because the City Council dropped the rule on Jan. 3, though, “it became a moot point,” Martingayle said.
Former Councilman Danny Meeks, who sided with the majority to punish Moody, was also fined last year for speaking with The Pilot about several companies’ bids to the Southeastern Public Service Authority, the regional trash agency. He did not pay the fine, arguing that he did not learn the information at the closed session.
Meeks was a defendant in Moody’s lawsuit, which had cost the city $54,000 in legal fees as of late August, and then sued the city over his own fine. His attorney in the second suit filed paperwork to dismiss the case on Jan. 11.
“All Mr. Meeks sought was invalidation of the rule,” his lawyer James Webb Jones wrote in an email Friday. “That has been accomplished.”
By Ana Ley
© January 27, 2017