Gilbert taxpayers’ tab for defending against a lawsuit by new Councilman Laurin Hendrix ended up costing $74,000.
Two weeks after the former state legislator won the Aug. 3 primary against Councilman Bill Spence, he sued to take office immediately, arguing the race was over because he was elected while Spence had been appointed in March to fill the seat vacated by Eddie Cook.
Superior Court Judge Daniel Kiley in September saw merit in Hendrix’s claim and allowed him to be seated in November instead of waiting until January.
Hendrix appealed the decision in hopes of joining the Council before November but was unsuccessful.
Hendrix, however, was able to recoup a good portion of his attorney fees from the town, totaling $17,455.
On top of that, Gilbert also had to pay its fees for outside counsel amounting to $56,596 for a total of $74,051. The final billing was received recently.
Part of the $56,596 bill included $17,425 for Spence’s attorney.
In the original suit, Spence was singled out as an individual and not a councilman and so he had to get his own attorney. Council in mid-August voted to cover Spence’s legal fees.
Hendrix said because he believes in fiscal responsibility, the decision to sue was not taken lightly.
“The Town Council was making decisions to spend millions of dollars unnecessarily and I wanted to do everything in my power to prevent this huge misuse of taxpayer money,” he told the Gilbert Sun News in an email. “Those decisions resulted in expenses that are many times greater than those incurred by the lawsuit.
“This includes the decision for Gilbert to go into the ambulance business, which I would have voted against if I had been able to take office at the appropriate time. Mr. Spence voted to spend millions when many Gilbert citizens are trying to recover from the loss of jobs and income. That should be the greatest concern to all of us.”
Hendrix faulted his opponent and the town for incurring the lawsuit.
“Everyone has a duty to follow the law, including municipalities and officials,” he said. “Appointed officials are expected to vacate an office when voters choose a different person to fill it.”
Hendrix pointed to U.S. Sen. Martha McSally as just one example.
Republican McSally lost in a special election in November against Democrat Mark Kelly, who was sworn in a month early on Dec. 2. McSally was appointed to the seat after the death of Sen. John McCain.
“I am not sure why Mr. Spence chose not to follow the rule of law and to publicly announce that he would be remaining in office until Jan. 5 nor why the Town of Gilbert chose to support his foolish behavior,” Hendrix said. “Furthermore, I don’t know of a case where a municipality followed such poor legal advice in choosing to ignore the law. “
Spokeswoman Jennifer Harrison said the legal fees were not covered by the Town’s insurance. Instead the money came out of the General Fund through the general counsel budget, she said.
Harrison did not provide a response regarding the use of taxpayer money to defend itself against Hendrix’s suit.