Judge awards $76,900 to Jeannette businessman, $158,427 in attorney's fees
By Richard Gazarik
Published: Friday, Jan. 25, 2013, 2:00 p.m.
A Westmoreland County judge awarded Jeannette businessman Frank Trigona $76,900 in damages and his attorney more than double that amount in fees in a “long, complicated and convoluted” legal dispute.
The case started in 2005 when the city withheld permits for rental properties because Trigona owed back taxes to the city. County court and a state appeals court both ruled in Trigona's favor, setting the stage for a trial last summer.
Judge Richard McCormick Jr. on Friday awarded Trigona $52,400 for lost rental income on one property and $24,500 on a second, but granted attorney Robert Lightcap of Latrobe $158,427 in legal fees.
The city is not protected by insurance and will have to find the money to pay Trigona and Lightcap.
The city is on the verge of being declared a financially distressed municipality subject to state oversight.
Solicitor Scott Avolio said the award will have a “drastic impact” on the city's financial future.
“From the city's standpoint, we were happy that the court found that our expert's report of damages was accurate,” he said. “The city is relieved that Frank Trigona is not going to be paid much, but the legal fees certainly hurt.”
McCormick said he based his decision on the expert opinion of real estate appraiser Gary Hayden, who was hired by the city. McCormick said that Hayden's conclusions on the amount of Trigona's damages “were derived from a sound economic basis.”
Appraiser John Lizza testified that his analysis of Trigona's losses in rental income amounted to $560,000.
Avolio objected to the fees sought by Trigona's attorney, arguing that they were unreasonable. But McCormick ruled Lightcap's fees were “necessary and reasonable.”
“The matter before the court is one with a long, complicated and convoluted history, involving issues of first impression in this commonwealth,” McCormick wrote. “The court has examined the hours and explanation for legal and expert services, as well as the costs expended, and finds that they were necessary and reasonable for the representation of the client.”
In 2005, Jeannette passed an ordinance denying occupancy and health permits to any landlord who owed the city money. A county judge overturned the law in 2006. The city appealed, and Commonwealth Court upheld the lower court's ruling.
Jeannette's insurance carrier told city officials that it would not pay for further appeals or any awards because the city decided to appeal against the carrier's advice, but the city went forward with a second appeal.
Avolio said he will consult with city council before deciding whether to appeal McCormick's ruling.
“I think we're going to review the decision and consider our action in light of an appeal,” he said.
Richard Gazarik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6292 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Highmark eliminates more than 100 jobs
- Steelers bring back long snapper Warren, lineman Wallace
- Coroner called to Fayette County accident
- Panthers free agent safety headed to Steelers
- Landslide closes section of Allegheny River Boulevard
- Penguins notebook: Letang skating, but no return set
- Surveillance cameras stop working after Pittsburgh fails to pay bill
- Orpik rises to occasion as Penguins take down Capitals once again
- Security breach compromises credit card info at Bloomfield medical practice
- Sewickley teen’s art helps her deal with challenges of epilepsy
- Habitat initiative meant to boost turkeys