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February 21, 2014

City to start new search for solicitor

METHUEN — The City Council decided last night to start its second hunt in the last year for a permanent city solicitor, nearly 11 months after rejecting both finalists from the last search.

By a vote of 6-3, the council voted to find a successor to Peter McQuillan, whom the council refused to reappoint in January 2013 and who resigned as of May 30, 2013, amid a failed search process that yielded no solicitor and led to the hiring of Boston law firm Kopelman and Paige.

Those in favor said while they were pleased with Kopelman and Paige’s service since it started in July, the firm, which bills by the hour, will cost more than having an in-house solicitor on salary.

“I think we’ve lost control of the spending,” said Councilor Ron Marsan.

Methuen has paid nearly $55,000 to Kopelman and Paige through December, and Councilor George Kazanjian said January’s bill is estimated to be more than $14,000.

McQuillan earned about $114,000 per year when the council voted not to reappoint him.

Councilors Lisa Yarid Ferry, Sean Fountain and James Jajuga voted against hiring an individual, saying that adding in costs of benefits and the occasional hiring of outside legal help in certain cases made the firm a better bargain.

“They have 50 attorneys on staff to cover every aspect of the law,” Fountain said.

He pointed to outside legal spending in several recent lawsuits, including about $475,000 over five years in the lawsuit between a former City Hall employee and former City Solicitor Maurice Lariviere. That suit was settled in 2012 for $250,000.

“The additional outside costs, when you factor that in, Kopelman and Paige isn’t costing us too much money,” Jajuga said.

Kazanjian said that specialized legal counsel will cost the city money either way, whether a city solicitor hires a firm or whether Kopelman and Paige uses one of its specialized attorneys and adds that time onto the bill.

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