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January 13, 2014

City legal bills hit $13K in October

METHUEN — The city’s monthly legal bill surpassed $13,000 in November and came in as the highest yet, renewing calls to search for an in-house city solicitor.

The November bill was about $13,547, according to city officials, and is the latest the city has received. The private firm Kopelman and Paige has billed the city for five months so far since it took over legal services for Methuen in July, totaling about $44,090.

Several councilors campaigned last fall to reopen a search for a city solicitor both as a convenience to city employees to get quick legal advice and as a potential cost savings.

“I campaigned on the idea of having a person in that position as city solicitor,” said Councilor George Kazanjian, who was elected to his first term in November. “I feel the same way now.”

Councilor Thomas Ciulla, who was the lone vote against hiring Kopelman and Paige last June, said Friday that he stood by that vote and still wants an in-house lawyer eventually, but said making a change now could be problematic given the threat of a lawsuit from former health director Brian LaGrasse hanging over the city.

“They’ve been dealing with this issue for the past several months since we decided to almost zero the position out,” Ciulla said. “It’s crazy if we change ships.”

The cost of having a private firm manage a lawsuit, however, could be “astronomical,” he said. “If a solicitor was there, they could work 40, 50, 60 hours a week and it’s at salary,” he said.

Councilor James Jajauga, also just elected to his first term, did not take a firm stand in an interview this week on whether he wanted to reopen the search, but suggested if a search were conducted, the city could contract with a solicitor rather than adding one to the payroll.

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