PENDERGRASS, Ga. - The bill just got bigger for one small Georgia town.
The city of Pendergrass already faced a $1,056,000 jury verdict handed to a pair of whistleblowers who say they unfairly lost their jobs.
This week, a judge agreed the city should pay at least some of the whistleblowers' legal fees and expenses. That's another $156,670.
The city's attorneys said they will appeal that decision as well as the verdict itself.
The headaches for Pendergrass city leaders started in 2009, when a group of whistleblowers complained to them -- and the FOX 5 I-Team -- about government misspending and ticket fixing in a town with a long reputation as a speed trap. The city denied all the allegations and fired city clerk Katherine Rintoul. Police lieutenant Bill Garner would later quit claiming a hostile work environment.
It would take them eight years to get their case before a jury, a wait that was worth it. The jury awarded the pair a seven-figure judgment covering damages and back pay.
“It's over," Rintoul told us. "We got to be able to tell it. Everybody got to see the facts. It's finally over."
Since then, the city of Pendergrass relies far less on fine money it collects from writing traffic tickets along Highway 129. They budgeted about $50,000 this year in ticket revenue. But their entire annual budget is only a third of the one million dollars a jury said the city should pay those two whistleblowers.
And the price keeps going up. Nancy Val Preda -- the whistleblowers' attorney -- represented them on contingency, meaning she wouldn't be paid unless they won.
She asked Jackson County Superior Court Judge David Sweat to also order Pendergrass to pay her legal fees and expenses – $348,219.43, including eight years’ worth of printing documents and filing motions.
“My hourly rate is 250 dollars an hour which is more than reasonable," she told the court.
Attorneys representing the city clearly had enough.
“We are concerned her billing practices are grossly excessive," protested Woody DeLong, criticizing Val Preda's itemized list of expenses. "Nothing is tied back to anything."
Judge Sweat ordered the city pay her less than half of what she wanted – $156,670. But it's still more money Pendergrass says it doesn't have.
"It almost seems like somebody's out for Pendergrass," complained resident Michael Henson. "A million is a big judgment. But then again, I don't know what these people have been through."
An appeal by the city means a case that has already stretched eight years may still not be close to the finish line.