BREAKING NEWS: Virginia Beach Plays Games With FOIA
This is a developing story. Will post updates as they come in.
Oh look. The City of Virginia Beach has been slapped around by yet another court over its capricious treatment of Dr. Allan Bergano, a long-time Beach dentist.
Last year it was a federal judge who hit them.
This time it’s the Virginia Supreme Court. In an opinion released today and penned by Justice Stephen McCullough, it looks like the city will finally have to come clean about where it spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to harass this poor dentist.
You’d think the City of Virginia Beach would play fair with Bergano - who was abused by the city’s sloppy use of eminent domain several years ago - but you would be wrong.
When Dr. Bergano used a Freedom of Information Act request to ask for details about how taxpayer dollars (including his own) were spent fighting him, the dentist was given documents that basically told him nothing.
Frankly, he’s not the only one who’d like to know what OUR money was spent on as the city relentlessly persecuted and refused to cooperate with this respected dentist.
The entire opinion is attached for your reading pleasure. Here’s the money quote:
“We have reviewed the unredacted billing records, which have been placed before this Court under seal. We conclude that the City’s redactions were too broad and included items that are not shielded from disclosure by the attorney-client or work-product exceptions. We unseal two entries for the purpose of illustration.* We are at a loss for why a cursory entry dated
∗ All other parts of the previously sealed record remain sealed. 6
February 2, 2017 for “[t]rial preparation and document review,” would fall under either VFOIA exception. Similarly, disclosing the entry dated February 7, 2017 for “[a]ttend trial (Day One)” would not in any way reveal confidential client communications, analytical work product, motives for litigation, or compromise litigation strategy. The previously redacted records include a number of such entries.‘
Bergano practiced at the same location on North Witchduck Road for about 30 years and intended to stay there. But the city bought the building, told him he’d have to relocate to make way for a road project and that he would get relocation expenses.
Once Bergano had signed a lease on a new place the city had a change of heart and said he could stay.
Thus began Bergano’s fight for the compensation he’d been promised.
The case dragged on for several years - Bergano’s lawyer told me the city “refused to come to the table” - and was finally settled for $175,000 in 2017.
But get this. Virginia Beach - taxpayers, that is - spent at least $300,000 in outside legal fees to fight the dentist, according to Bergano’s attorney, Brian Kunze, and about another $40K on unspecified “expert” costs.
The two lawyers hired by the city were pricey. One charged $375 an hour. The other billed $200 an hour. Your tax dollars at work.
Oh, and the city ultimately had to pay Bergano’s lawyers’ fees, which amounted to about $200,000.
Kunze says that the city - that would be you and me - spent between $600,000 and $700,000 on a case worth $175,000.
This is what passes for good government in Virginia Beach.