The Matteo Case: And the winner is… The Lawyers!

“The judicial process is like a cow. The public is impaled on its horns, the government has it by the tail, and all the while the lawyers are milking it.” – anonymous

The final disposition of the (Matteo) Anello v. (Robert) Anderson case came down last week in the form of a reduced award of $156,414.25, with 25% going to Anello and 75% to his lawyers.

Previously, a 2015 jury had awarded Anello and his lawyers over $375,000 total. The city of Niagara Falls appealed that verdict, leading to this week’s final decision.

The city was represented by the Buffalo law firm Hodgson Russ. A FOIA request by this newspaper revealed that the city of Niagara Falls had paid Hodgson Russ a total of $802,873 from 2009 to the end of 2014, $112,513.67 of which specifically went to Hodgson Russ attorneys Daniel Oliverio and Joe Brown to work on the Anello case.

The $112,000+ in Hodgson Russ billings did not include the hours that Oliverio and Brown spent at the five day trial in 2015 (est. 80 hours) or the days spent at the city council offices preparing witnesses (est. 40 hours) or the time spent researching the knotty issues of case and constitutional law and the time spent preparing for trial (est. 30 hours.)

Those bills came later.

And then there was also still to come the subsequent appeal that ultimately reduced the verdict amount (est. 20 hours) and the city’s defense of Anello’s motion to have the city pay his legal bills (est. 20 hours).

Even if Hodgson Russ were to bill at bare bones, municipal discount rates of say $200 per hour – – the agreed upon figure when the firm first started with the city – at 190 more hours for the Anello case – it adds another $38,000 more – making it close to $150,000 in legal fees for a case that the city lost, and probably could have settled early on for about what the verdict came in at – $105,000 – without all the legal expenses.

Matteo Anello got $40,000. The lawyers got more than $250,000. The taxpayers paid for all of it.

Matteo Anello got $40,000. The lawyers got more than $250,000. The taxpayers paid for all of it.

In fact, we spoke with Mr. Anello way back in 2007, not too long after the incident at a City Council meeting at which he was taken away in handcuffs for words he spoke at the microphone, but before he had decided to commence litigation. He told us that he would have settled for $80,000 – which of course means he probably would have accepted half that. If the Dyster administration had settled it way back when, it would have saved the city hundreds of thousands in lawyers’ fees.

It was August 19, 2015 that the Hodgson Russ law firm held a high-end political fundraiser for Mayor Dyster in Buffalo at $250 per person, $350 per couple for sponsorships at $500 for silver, $750 for gold and $1000 for platinum.

And that, my friends, is life in these Niagara Falls.

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