Whistle-blower case costs Millinocket $97,000 more

By Nick Sambides Jr., BDN Staff
Posted June 16, 2010, at 10:49 a.m.

MILLINOCKET, Maine — The town’s insurer will pay $97,432 in attorney’s fees, court costs and prejudgment interest as part of former Recreation Department Director Mary Walsh’s successful whistle-blower lawsuit against the town, officials said Tuesday.

An agreement between town attorney Melissa A. Hewey and Walsh’s attorney, A.J. Greif of Bangor, mandates that the insurer pay Walsh’s $72,655 in fees and court costs. Hewey relayed news of the agreement to Penobscot County Superior Court officials in a letter dated Monday.

The agreement was made to allow the town’s planned appeal of the Walsh verdict to proceed, Hewey said. Contesting Greif’s fee application β€œis pointless,” she said Tuesday.

The town’s appeal will be filed in the next few weeks, Hewey said.

A civil court jury on Aug. 20, 2009, affirmed for the second time in 11 months that former Town Councilor Matthew Polstein and the town violated the state’s Whistleblower Protection Act by firing Walsh from her job as town recreation department director in 2005.

The jury awarded Walsh $30,000 in damages, with state law capping awards on lawsuits against municipalities of Millinocket’s size at $50,000.

Jurors found that Polstein cast a tie-breaking council vote — effectively cutting Walsh’s job in order to create a single recreation department for the three Katahdin region towns — because her complaints about dangerous conditions on trails maintained by his businesses threatened state and town trail-grooming subsidies crucial to his finances.

Polstein owns lodging, a restaurant and a snowmobile rental business — Twin Pines Camps, River Drivers restaurant and New England Outdoors Center — all just outside Millinocket.

He and town officials have maintained that the consolidation of recreation departments was an attempt to improve efficiency and had nothing to do with Walsh.

As part of the agreement with Hewey, Greif dropped $1,000 from his attorney’s fees. The agreement and ruling raise the total cost of Walsh’s civil lawsuit against the town to more than $191,000, Greif said.

β€œI am happy to take a little over 1 percent off my fees for the privilege of not having to fight that [court fees] battle,” Greif said Tuesday.

Also, Superior Court Justice William Anderson ruled on May 13 that Walsh is entitled to $24,777 in prejudgment interest dating back to October 2005 from the salary she would have received had her job not been terminated, Greif said.

Town Manager Eugene Conlogue did not return a telephone call seeking comment.

http://bangordailynews.com/2010/06/16/news/whistleblower-case-costs-millinocket-97000-more/ printed on April 18, 2014