HIGH SPRINGS – Legal fees assessed against former High Springs City Commissioner Robert J. Barnas continue to mount as Paul Regensdorf, attorney for Sharon Yeago, filed a motion for additional fees with the Florida Elections Commission (FEC).
By a unanimous vote of the FEC Tuesday, Barnas was assessed an additional $68,720 in attorney's fees. That amount brings the total owed to Yeago and her attorney to $116,596.95.
The fees stem from a case in which Barnas originally filed a complaint against Yeago with the FEC on April 1, 2013. Noting that Yeago was acting as spokesperson for Concerned Citizens for a Better High Springs, a group also known as Concerned Citizens, he filed it against her personally.
Barnas' original complaint charged that the group was formed to oppose a High Springs Charter amendment referendum and to support certain candidates running for commission seats in the Nov. 6, 2012 general election.
Barnas alleged at that time that such activity had violated various provisions of Chapter 106, Florida Statutes, since Concerned Citizens did not register as a political committee or appoint a treasurer, a registered agent, file reports of financial expenditures, nor keep records.
The FEC summarily dismissed Barnas' original complaint against Yeago as being “legally insufficient” and, in July 2013, Yeago filed a counter petition against Barnas to attempt to recover attorney's fees and costs challenging Barnas' tactics in filing his original complaint.
Yeago argued in her counter petition that Barnas maliciously filed the complaint knowing that its allegations were false or that it was filed with reckless disregard for the truth.
Hearings were held in Tallahassee to consider Yeago's petition to be reimbursed for attorney's fees and expenses for the legally insufficient case brought by Barnas against her. Following those hearings, Administrative Law Judge Diane Cleavinger wrote a detailed 27-page Recommended Order (RO) in support of Yeago's claim against Barnas and awarded $46,876.95 in attorney’s fees and costs.
After receiving the RO ruling in Yeago's favor, Barnas submitted 55 pages of exceptions and challenges. FEC members reviewed all of Barnas' exceptions and objections in Tallahassee in October 2014 and at a second hearing in Tallahassee on Feb. 24, 2015.
Following this extensive review, the FEC substantially upheld the RO and rejected the bulk of Barnas' exceptions.
As Barnas has not complied and paid the amount approved by the Administrative Law Judge and the FEC, the Department of Legal Affairs is authorized by Florida Statutes to take on the task of forcing compliance with the Administrative Law Judge's order, a process that will ultimately further increase the amount owed with additional court costs and attorney fees.
Regensdorf said his recent motion to the FEC was seeking additional attorney’s fees against Barnas for the rest of the proceedings since the 2014 administrative hearing.
“This would include the fees for the time spent finishing up the Department of Administrative Hearing proceeding, getting it enforced by the FEC, and defending the later appeal to the First District Court of Appeals, which Ms. Yeago also won,” Regensdorf said.
“They orally voted unanimously to grant my motion and award me and Ms. Yeago 100 percent of the additional fees requested.”
In Tuesday’s vote, the FEC first awarded an additional $23,080 to Yeago and her attorney for legal work performed between April 24, 2014 (the end of the Administrative Hearing before the Administrative Law Judge) and March 25, 2015 (the date the FEC entered its Final Order against Barnas on all of the facts.)
Then an additional $46,640 was assessed against Barnas for the legal work performed between March 25, 2015 (the date of the Final order from the FEC) and March 8, 2016, when the First District Court of Appeals denied all of the post-decision motions that Barnas and his attorney filed.
These were the appellate fees only and included 116.60 additional hours of legal work.
Barnas and his attorney were not in attendance at the Aug. 16 hearing and submitted no argument in writing. Although Regensdorf must wait to have a formal written order entered, at which time he says “Barnas could appeal,” he said he is not overly concerned.
“Without coming [to the hearing] and making objections or arguments, there’s not much to argue,” he said.
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