ROME — The town has overspent its legal fund fighting three lawsuits filed by companies trying to set up a cellphone tower in town, and the lack of money means the town may default on one of the cases.

Town officials plan to hold a meeting at 6 p.m. Monday at the community center to give an update on the progress of the litigation.

Selectman Richard LaBelle said Thursday that $50,000 approved by voters in March and $6,400 in private donations that have come in since July have been spent, and the town has overdrawn the legal account by $2,500.

Voters in July allowed the town to accept up to $15,000 in donations to continue litigation.

If it doesn’t get more money, the town will not have the means to act on a pending ruling from the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston and could default on a public access case filed against it in Kennebec County Superior Court.

“If no more money comes in, that is going to be the position we are going to be in,” LaBelle said.

Monday’s informational meeting might bring in more private contributions, he said.

Global Tower Assets, of Boca Raton, Florida, and Northeast Wireless Networks, of Winchester, Massachusetts, sued the town and the Rome Planning Board in 2014 after the board denied the companies’ application to build a 190-foot-tall cellphone tower on The Mountain, which has a popular hiking trail and overlooks both Long and Great ponds.

Erica Johanson, an attorney from the Eaton Peabody law firm in Portland representing the companies, did not return a call Thursday afternoon.

In the suit, the companies claimed they were victims of discrimination and should have been allowed to improve cellphone service and that the application process was too long. The case was dismissed by a U.S. District Court judge in August 2014, but that decision was appealed to the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The appellate court heard oral arguments in the case last month and a ruling is pending.

Frank Underkuffler, a Farmington attorney representing the town, said that a second lawsuit, almost identical to the first, was filed in state court and transferred to the Maine business and consumer court. A judge at that court ordered a stay in the case last month, pausing any action on the litigation until the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling comes out in order to prevent a conflicting decision, Underkuffler said.

That means the town isn’t in imminent threat of default on those two cases, but might need additional money for the case depending on the decision the appeals court makes, Underkuffler said.

However, a third case, filed Oct.1 in Kennebec County, will require the town to spend more on legal services. That suit, brought by Global Towers, concerns a Freedom of Access Act request filed by the company for documents containing legal advice given to the town regarding potential conflict of interest and bias of Planning Board members who considered the application for the cellphone tower, according to Underkuffler.

The town’s position is that the records are protected under confidentiality laws, Underkuffler said.

LaBelle, in an email Thursday, said Global Towers has filed multiple Freedom of Access requests with the town over the course of the litigation. The town has maintained that either no documents exist or any that the town did not turn over are not relevant to the case and the request, LaBelle said.

In his opinion, the real purpose of the recent litigation is to file “frivolous motions” to force the town to spend its dwindling legal fees. Since Sept. 15, the town has paid Underkuffler $1,896 to deal with the Freedom of Access issue, LaBelle said.

“I believe this is a last-ditch effort to deplete the designated funds,” he said.

Peter McGuire — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @PeteL_McGuire

 


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