BUFFALO, NY - This past spring a Cleveland, Ohio based developer, NRP Holdings, filed suit against Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, accusing him and other city officials of corruption.
The suit was filed four years after NRP's proposal to build affordable housing on some vacant lots in the city's Masten District fell apart.
Sean O'Brien, a viewer from Hamburg, asked 2 On Your Side, "Who is paying for Mayor Byron Brown's legal fees in this lawsuit? He retained (prominent defense attorney) Terry Connors, who comes at a hefty cost."
The short answer to the question is: the taxpayers.
Connors told us his fees will come from a fund in the city budget designated for outside legal counsel.
O'Brien also wanted to know why the city's Corporation Counsel, who supervises an entire staff of attorneys who work on behalf of the city, isn't representing the Mayor instead of Connors.
Connors says he was hired because he has expertise which the city's lawyers do not, particularly in laws governing Federal Racketeering statutes, violations of which are alleged by NRP in its lawsuit against Mayor Brown, Deputy Mayor Steve Casey, and Common Councilman Demone Smith. (Smith is the only one of the three being represented by city lawyers.)
NRP accuses them of engaging in "pay-to-play" politics, by insisting NRP hire an ally of the mayor, Reverend Richard Stenhouse, to be part of the project...and that Brown killed the deal when they refused.
Mayor Brown has consistently and staunchly denied the allegations as set forth in NRP's civil suit seeking $1.4 million in damages.
The Mayor's spokesperson, Michael DeGeorge, noted it is not uncommon for municipal governments to hire outside attorneys when a case is unusual or requires a certain level of specialized expertise.
DeGeorge cited, for example, Erie County's recent decision to hire outside counsel to represent the county in its lease negotiations for the use of Ralph Wilson Stadium by the Buffalo Bills.
As for how much Connors' services have run so far, he told WGRZ-TV, "offhand I honestly don't know."
Viewers aren't the only ones curious about the bottom line when it comes to legal fees in this case.
"Well I have questions too, and I filed a resolution asking many of the questions the viewer is asking," said Common Councilmember David Franczyk, who had served as Council President for eight years, until a majority of lawmakers recently tapped Councilmember Richard Fontana for the post instead.
So far Franczyk has yet to get the answers.
"One of the things that troubles me is the Mayor controls the Common Council now...the majority of the council does whatever the Mayor says, and I hope they don't rush toward some kind of settlement which the taxpayers will have to pay for, because the Council has to vote on that."
But in his most recent court filing, Connors does not seek a settlement, but rather a dismissal of the suit on several grounds.
In his motion to dismiss, Connors also states, "The defendants recognize their duty to taxpayers to obtain a dismissal as soon as possible so that attorney fees are kept to a minimum."
Connors says because the law doesn't provide for the city to recover outside attorney fees in cases such as this, it appears taxpayers will be on the hook for something here.
Click on the video player to watch our story from 2 On Your Side Reporter Dave McKinley and Photojournalist Bob Mancuso.
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