VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Can the City of Virginia Beach hide details on legal bills in a case involving a Virginia Beach dentist?
That is a case about to play out in the Virginia State Supreme Court. The case involves more than 100 pages of redacted legal bills. What is the city hiding? They won’t say, but claim they have every right to do it.
Dr. Allan Bergano has fought Virginia Beach for three years. He was fighting for relocation benefits he claims were given to others, but denied to him in the Witchduck Road widening project.
He beat the city, accepting $175,000 in a relocation offer, but now he’s fighting the city again through a freedom of information lawsuit.
“Virginia Beach needs to become accountable to taxpayer money. I am a taxpayer, and they list all this stuff, but they don’t list what they did,” Bergano said as he pointed to an itemized list of legal fees with lots of redacted lines. The only things on the list are the lawyer’s name and hours worked.
“The records are suppose to be public. The citizens of Virginia Beach, taxpayers, are the ones paying for it,” said Brian Kunze, Bergano’s attorney. 10 On Your Side asked Kunze if he thought the Circuit Court got it wrong.
“Yes, the court did get it wrong, so we filed for review with the Virginia State Supreme Court, and the court agreed to hear the case,” Kunze said.
Last May, the Virginia Beach Circuit Court ruled against Bergano, stating the city can redact information showing litigation strategy, specific nature of services provided, research areas of law, and other exemptions.
“We went to the Virginia Beach Circuit Court, and said here is what we redacted in one hand, and here are the totally un-redacted bills side by side,” said Deputy City Attorney Chris Boynton. “You tell us if we did it right, and the court in Virginia Beach said we did it right.”
Bergano’s team plans to use a 1988 opinion by the State Attorney General that attorney-client privilege the city has with hired attorneys is not protected by law, and citizens have a right to know.
“They have a duty to protect the taxpayers’ rights, not violate them. They have a duty to disclose what they are spending to defend their actions when they try to defend violating the taxpayer rights,” Kunze said.
10 On Your Side asked Boynton why the State Supreme Court is agreeing to hear the case if he believes the city is in the right. “I cannot speak for the Supreme Court…If they want to clarify the law, we welcome it,” Boynton said.
Boynton also calls Bergano a “single taxpayer” that is adverse to the rest of the taxpayers of Virginia Beach. Boynton says the rest of the taxpayers have the same legal rights as Bergano does to keep the redacted lines redacted.