Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Castle v. Esslinger: The Thrilla Involving the Exchange of Notarized Manila Envelopes

Let's go straight to the tape --

First, the NW runs a story announcing the resolution to the debate over who should pay his legal bills. From the article:

Esslinger said that at the time he only knew that he was under criminal investigation and not the reason, so he thought he should hire a lawyer.

Esslinger did exactly what anyone should do when confronted with a similar situation: "lawyer up." Now that's a phrase that thanks to cop shows has a derogatory tinge to it, but it is both the wise thing to do and his constitutional right. He really shouldn't need to excuse this action, but because people perceive getting a lawyer as a minor admission of guilt -- especially when a public official is involved -- he kinda has to. Getting a lawyer should only be seen as one person admitting he or she is not well acquainted enough with the law to negotiate its intricacies his or her self.

He said he at first tried to get legal advice from then-City Attorney Warren Kraft. However, Kraft told Esslinger that he was unable to talk to him about the situation because Justice Department officials had told him not to.

Esslinger said he thought that since it was an incident involving actions he made while serving the city, the city should pay the bill.

"I think based upon the circumstances and the language that's in the policy, (the city has) to pay it," he said. "I was not given any representation with the city and as an agent of the city I'm due representation."

That's a bit disingenuous. First Esslinger thought Bill Castle was supposed to pay the bill. Now, the NW may have decided to skip over that part of the story (and with some degree of justification), but Paul's rationale for getting the city to pick up the tab is exactly the same reason he provided to Castle for why he should foot the bill. This from the letter Esslinger wrote to Castle:

Because I was acting on behalf of the City of Oshkosh, with legal advice from Mr. Kraft, and because your charges were baseless, if you do not pay the bill, you then will essentially be forcing the taxpayers to pay these attorneys fees.

I ask that you do the appropriate thing and pay my attorneys fees.

This sounds like he gave just as much consideration to the idea that the city's insurance policy would pick up the tab as I did originally.

I find it odd that Esslinger uses the same logic to demand payment from a private individual as he does from the city government. His relationship to both parties is going to be different. Basically this looks like Esslinger shopped around a reason why he should get someone else to pay up and finally found a taker. That can look like buck passing and a desperate effort by one person to say "It's everyone else's fault but mine!"

Back to the NW article --

The DOJ eventually came out with a report stating that it could not find sufficient evidence to support Castle's allegations beyond a reasonable doubt. Castle could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

This summary actually sells Esslinger short. The DOJ report was actually more favorable to Paul, saying that he had indeed acted in "good faith" during the meeting in question. In other words, there wasn't enough evidence to support a prosecution because there was no reason to prosecute.

As for the comment-less Castle -- what did they expect? It's the Tuesday before Thanksgiving ... I've been off since Friday afternoon and if my family wasn't coming here for the holiday you can bet your sweet ass I'd be unavailable for comment to anyone who wasn't bringing me a rum-soaked drink with a little umbrella in it.

Now, recently I expressed a curiosity to see the itemized bill Esslinger received from his attorney. Cheryl Hentz was kind enough to do some leg work and track said document down.

Bear with me for a second as I break some numbers down:

The city attorney is paid about $100,000 a year. If he or she works 40 hours a week for 52 weeks a year (that's 2080 hours for those playing at home -- and by the way, that's the absolute minimum number of hours a city attorney will work a year; even with paid vacation the actual sum will be far more) the C.A. will be working for essentially $48 an hour. Esslinger received a bill at $1680 for 7.4 hours of work. That comes out to about $227 an hour. That's a pretty big disparity.

Just think about that the next time you feel the city attorney is overpaid ...

The problem that I have -- and this is detailed explicitly in the DOJ report -- is that Esslinger sought Warren Kraft out for legal advice prior to the now infamous meeting, then proceeded to ignore Kraft's counsel. So even if he was acting in good faith and in an official capacity, the argument can be made that by casting aside the city attorney's advice and in acting in a manner unbecoming of a city official (remember, it wasn't just Castle that thought Esslinger was acting inappropriately -- several other council members did too) he should not be afforded the protections of, say, access to the city insurance plan.

Essentially, because Esslinger ignored the free legal advice that was given to him by Warren Kraft at the outset of this fiasco the city now has to dip into its insurance coffers. There is a direct line causation flowing from one event to the other. And now somebody is left paying a $1715 legal bill, only it's not the person who should probably be paying.

There will likely be more letter to the NW praising Esslinger for "sticking it to the man" or whatever. In reality he did no such thing. Esslinger shopped around an argument and finally got someone to buy into it. He was probably aided in his efforts by the fact that the city attorney's office is in a state of flux right now.

Or, to put it another way, like all people Esslinger was met with an obstacle, but instead of pulling himself up by his own bootstraps, taking the problem head-on and holding himself accountable, he went looking for a hand-out.

Luckily for him, he found one.

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