By Brian Messenger
---- — METHUEN — Mayor Stephen Zanni said he may have to hire outside legal help if police Chief Joseph Solomon’s lawsuit against the city proceeds in federal court late next month.
If the sides can’t come to terms and agree to throw out the chief’s suit in the coming weeks, the case will then likely be settled through the courts beginning Feb. 27 with a scheduling conference in Boston.
Zanni said yesterday he plans to present Solomon with a final settlement offer by Friday.
“It’s a final proposal,” said Zanni. “I’m looking to, hopefully, resolve this.”
If a settlement can’t be reached, Zanni said he will consider hiring a private law firm to work the case. But that will depend on when the City Council names City Solicitor Peter McQuillan’s replacement, the mayor said.
“I might be looking for an outside lawyer ... if it goes to that point,” said Zanni. “I want to make sure we have our ducks in a row.
“I just think this is important to have it all sorted out ahead of time and not wait to the last minute.”
The search for a new city lawyer was triggered Jan. 7 when the City Council voted 5-4 against reappointing McQuillan to a two-year term. No deadline has been set for naming his replacement, but a search committee made up of city councilors and local lawyers will begin reviewing the 12 applicants for the job this week. Applicants had until Friday to send their resumes to City Hall.
City Council Chairman Sean Fountain said Monday it is also possible that councilors will name an interim solicitor before making a permanent hire. A special meeting could be held this week to discuss the matter, he said.
McQuillan is expected to stay on board as solicitor until a successor or interim is named. Zanni acknowledged yesterday that the uncertainty surrounding the solicitor’s job and how long McQuillan will be employed by the city has made planning for the federal case more difficult.
By hiring an outside lawyer, Zanni said he could ensure the city’s legal representation has been on the case for at least several weeks prior to Feb. 27, in the event McQuillan’s successor or interim replacement is named in the coming weeks.
“I want to be prepared,” said Zanni. “There will be an additional cost, but I want to make sure we’re set going into this.”
The hiring of a private lawyer would likely prove controversial. Yesterday, Fountain said the City Council would have to approve any funding for outside legal costs.
Councilors also became angry last year after learning Methuen paid roughly $450,000 over seven years to Davis, Malm & D’Agostine for the Boston firm’s work on a sexual harassment suit involving former city legal secretary Fulya Metin Campanelli and former city solicitor Maurice Lariviere. Councilors voted to settle with Campanelli for $250,000 in January 2012.
Afterward, the council passed a resolution requiring that they be notified of all legal bills from outside law firms. Previously, the council was only informed if the bill exceeded $50,000.
Fountain also noted yesterday that Anne Randazzo was hired last year as Methuen’s assistant solicitor/human resources director specifically to limit the outsourcing of legal work.
“There is a person being paid by the city to represent the city and taxpayers,” said Fountain. “We already lost hundreds of thousands on the last suit which fell in our laps. Not going to happen again.”
Lawsuits between the chief and city stem from Solomon’s firing in 2008. The City Council also cut his $158,295 salary by $25,610 in 2007. Solomon returned as chief in 2010, after the state Civil Service Commission reduced his punishment to a one-year suspension. The city’s appeal of that decision was rejected by a judge in July.
The chief filed a federal suit in May 2011, accusing former Mayor William Manzi and the city of “unconstitutional and retaliatory actions” for “illegally” firing him. The city has filed counterclaims against Solomon to recoup nearly $200,000 it repaid to the federal government several years ago. The city claims the chief did not fulfill contractual duties in overseeing federal grants.