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Nye sues opponents of hospital move to recoup legal fees

January 19, 2007|by KAREN HANNA

HAGERSTOWN - A dispute over legal fees has caused a fracture among the group of eight people who led the opposition to Washington County Hospital's proposed move.

J. Michael Nye, who was the public face of the fight, has sued the five litigants still active in a court battle to prevent the hospital from moving near the Robinwood Medical Center.

Nye claims the five members - Robert and Sally Hatch, Gordon and Janet Bartels, and Chuck Hongell - failed to cover their portions of the legal fees incurred during an appeal of a zoning decision favorable to the hospital's move. Hongell said Thursday night that the group never agreed to share expenses.

"I paid more than triple my one-eighth of the bill, and that's why we're continuing to go back to court ... because I've overpaid my share of the bill," Nye said Thursday.

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Nye said he does not know how much he is owed. When he and two other members of the group known as Citizens for Responsible Health Care quit the court fight over the hospital in the fall, Nye said, he believed the group owed about $16,000 in legal fees and attorney bills, and he sued to cover that amount.

Since filing the lawsuit last month, Nye said, the bills have been paid, but he does not know how much money he is owed from members who did not contribute what he considers their share.

"It's no longer a squabble to make sure the attorney gets paid, it's a squabble to make sure everybody pays their fair share," Nye said.

The case is scheduled for trial Feb. 26, Washington County District Court records show.

Hongell alleged Nye was responsible for expenses. He did not identify who paid the bills, and he said that issue is "irrelevant."

"Mr. Nye asked for donations to a legal fund. He never said people would be responsible for 'x' number of dollars," Hongell said.

In all, Nye said, legal fees from the case have totaled about $30,000. He estimated the five defendants owe him about $6,000 or $7,000.

"It was a verbal agreement. It was perfected with our attorney," Nye said. He claimed attorney William C. Wantz talked to each member of the group about fees.

Nye said he contributed about $13,000 to the case, including Wantz's $10,000 retainer.

Neither Wantz nor the other defendants were available to discuss the case Thursday.

Like Nye, Ron Horn dropped out of the hospital-move fight in the fall.

"We withdrew because (as) we saw it, it was a no-win situation," Horn said.

Horn said he supports Nye's efforts to recoup money from the legal battle.

"They are responsible for part of the bill - their part of the bill," said Horn, who estimated he spent about $2,300.

Horn said the eight people involved all agreed to share expenses.

A Sept. 16, 2006, letter included with the defendants' responses to the lawsuit states that Nye would pay the bills.

It also asks Wantz to discontinue his efforts on the case. Not all of the members have signed the letter that is included in the court file.

The eight people who took on the zoning board's decision used to be on good terms, Nigh said.

"We were very friendly until the three of us determined that we lost at the planning level, we lost at the political level and we lost at the Circuit Court level. The fix is in, and we're not going to change the hospital (from) moving to Robinwood," Nye said.

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