EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

December 15, 2012

City may add two lawyers to legal team

LAWRENCE — City Attorney Charles Boddy could soon be getting some help.

Nine months after his last assistant city attorney resigned for a similar job in Methuen, the City Council on Tuesday is scheduled consider Boddy’s request to bring on two assistants who held similar jobs in Boston and Peabody.

The two assistants will earn a total of $130,000 annually — one will work half-time — but allow the city to take back some of the legal work it now contracts to outside lawyers, who billed the city $726,955 in the fiscal year that ended June 30. Six lawyers and four aides worked in Lawrence’s Law Department as recently as about seven years ago. Today, it’s just Boddy and his $50,645-a-year secretary.

“It’s been running efficiently, but it’s been a challenge to balance the city’s needs,” Boddy said. “It does take its toll because it is a high-energy, high-stress office.”

He said he believed the city has been adequately represented as its legal team shrank, but conceded that the defense against one case suffered when assistant City Attorney Richard D’Agostino left on a medical leave in January 2011, a few days before the trial was scheduled to begin. Boddy said the case involved allegations of police brutality, but would not elaborate.

A month after D’Agostino went on leave, the city settled a suit brought by a man who alleged police beat him in his cell after he was falsely arrested for stealing a car. The man got $400,000. The city admitted no wrongdoing.

“If we had more time, we could have tried the case or more skillfully negotiated a settlement,” Boddy said. “The departure of the lawyer most knowledgeable about it left the city at a disadvantage to strategize and negotiate.”

The city later also settled a workman’s compensation lawsuit D’Agostino filed against the city, for $85,000. D’Agostino no longer works for the city and is suing in an effort to get his job back, alleging the settlement is illegal.

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