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October 1, 2013

Monthly legal bills on the rise

METHUEN — The city’s legal bills rose to $9,707 in August — a month-to-month increase of over $2,000.

That monthly total includes $5,293 for the mayor’s office and other city departments, $3,249 for the City Council and $1,165 for the Tax Collector/Treasurer’s office.

Mayor Stephen Zanni said he received invoices yesterday from private law firm Kopelman and Paige. The Boston-based firm was hired by the City Council earlier this year to take over the responsibilities of the vacant city solicitor position.

In July, Kopelman and Paige’s first full monthly billing cycle in Methuen, the firm charged the city $7,678 for legal services. City Council Chairman Sean Fountain’s initial cost estimate of $5,315 for July was incorrect.

In all, the city’s legal expenses increased by $2,029 from July to August.

Yesterday, Zanni said he expects monthly legal bills with Kopelman and Paige will increase, given the ongoing legal issue with former city health director Brian LaGrasse and the potential for preliminary collective bargaining talks with city unions.

“We could be looking at higher bills in the future,” said Zanni. “Things have started to escalate. We need to start looking where we’re going with this.”

Zanni believes the City Council should hire a new solicitor. But Fountain said yesterday that the August bill from Kopelman and Paige still represents a cost savings when compared to the price of employing former solicitor Peter McQuillan.

McQuillan earned an annual salary of $113,114 — which breaks down to $9,400 a month but does not include health insurance, longevity pay or retirement benefits.

“It’s still a cost savings,” said Fountain. “I think we’re getting a great service. It’s a one-stop shop for all the city’s needs.”

Methuen has been without a solicitor since June 1. In May, the council voted to hire Kopelman and Paige to assume the duties of the office. The firm charges the city $175 per hour.

Other area clients of the firm include the cities of Newburyport and Amesbury and towns of Georgetown and Groveland.

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