Annexation in-court fees top $135,000

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Among the most frequent questions about the city’s annexation trial is: How much are we paying the attorneys to appear in court?
The answer is complicated, but it translates to roughly $135,500 – so far.
That’s the total per-hour rate for each attorney, legal assistant and expert witness who have appeared in Lee County Chancery Court during the trial’s 21-day run. The trial lasts roughly five and a half hours each day, so that’s about 115 hours overall.
Proceedings are expected to conclude sometime this week, so the final amount is likely to climb.
Judge Edward C. Prisock, who was specially appointed by the Mississippi Supreme Court to hear the case, is paid from the Supreme Court’s budget.
Also appearing daily at trial are the court reporters, deputy clerks and bailiffs. They are paid through their normal salaries.
The $135,500 doesn’t include all if the billable hours the legal teams work outside of court in preparation for trial. In some cases, the outside work is almost as much as the trial time.
And regardless of the trial’s outcome, the case likely will be appealed to the Mississippi Supreme Court. Add more billable hours to the total when this happens.

Breaking down the numbers
Lee County’s legal team so far has cost more than the city’s. Its attorneys charge $175-$185 per hour. Its legal assistant earns $100 per hour, and its expert witness gets $150 per hour. Together, they’ve cost about $80,200 in in-court fees since trial started.
Each of Tupelo’s attorneys charges $120 per hour. Their assistant gets $65 per hour, and the expert witness gets $105 per hour. They’ve cost taxpayers about $54,000 to appear in court so far.
Saltillo’s two attorneys charge $100 per hour each and have no legal assistant or expert witness. They trade places so that only one appears at a given time. They’ve racked up about $11,500.
Only Plantersville got a deal. Its attorney, Jason Shelton, declined to charge beyond his $400-per-month retainer fee. So the town spends nothing to send Shelton and his team to the annexation trial.
Taxpayers foot the bill for each legal team, paid from their communities’ general funds. Municipal residents pay both their city’s team and the county team because they’re taxed by both entities.
Costs began to mount long before the case hit trial, though. Since the city first launched its attempt to annex 16.15 square miles of unincorporated land two years ago, it has spent roughly $458,000 in legal and consultants fees.
The county has spent about $350,000 during that same time.
The price goes up when including the city’s previous attempt starting in 2004. For that, add $428,316 in city expenses and $617,987 in county expenses.

Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@djournal.com.