Costs awarded against Green Councillors

Cessnock council’s costly win

BY JOANNE MCCARTHY
28 Jul, 2012 04:00 AM

CESSNOCK City Council has won a Land and Environment Court costs battle against two councillors, but lost the war.

While Justice Nicola Pain awarded costs against councillors James Ryan and Chris Parker yesterday, she criticised the council’s $80,000 legal bill for a case that never got off the ground.

Legal firm Sparke Helmore sent the council a bill of $50,000 for solicitors’ fees between May 11 and June 27, and an additional $21,000 in senior and junior counsel fees over the same period.

“The costs appear large for two months’ work when apart from the commencement of proceedings only two court mentions were necessary,” Justice Pain said.

Briefing both junior and senior barristers for a matter that settled relatively quickly once proceedings commenced was “not justified”, she said.

The council launched proceedings in the Land and Environment Court in May after Cr Ryan proposed a motion to delegate the handling of a linked NSW Supreme Court case from the council to a third party, barrister and Muswellbrook mayor Martin Rush.

Cr Alison Davey initiated the Supreme Court case against 10 councillors seeking to vote general manager Lea Rosser out of a job.

The Land and Environment Court case ended quickly after councillors gave undertakings they would not seek to delegate the handling of the Supreme Court matter.

On Tuesday this week the council pursued Cr Ryan and Cr Parker for an $8000 share each of the $80,000 legal bill, plus the cost of the costs hearing.

Justice Pain expressed concern about the council’s handling of the costs case, the briefing of a senior counsel, and “considerable work by the council’s solicitors” for a matter that should have left the two councillors with a “relatively modest” costs order against them.

She ordered Cr Ryan and Cr Parker to pay half the council’s costs until June 15, but ordered that they not have to pay the senior counsel’s fees or the fees of one solicitor.

Justice Pain also severely restricted the amount the two councillors needed to pay for Tuesday’s full-day costs hearing.

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