EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

December 15, 2012

City may add two lawyers to legal team

By Keith Eddings

---- — 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.

Next week, a City Council committee is scheduled to consider a request from Boddy and Mayor William Lantigua to hire Raquel Ruano, a Georgetown woman who worked for five years as an assistant city attorney for Boston until leaving in May, and Daniel Cocuzzo, an Everett man who worked as an assistant city attorney in Peabody for five years until leaving in February.

Ruano, who would work part-time and earn $45,000, was offered the job because of her experience in civil rights law, Lantigua said in a letter to the council. Cocuzzo, who would earn $85,000, was offered the job because of his experience in labor law, Lantigua told the council. Boddy earns $110,543.

Ruano and Cocuzzo did not return phone calls. In all, 25 people applied for the two jobs, all but two from Massachusetts.

The five finalists included Jordan Fiore, a Taunton City councilman for 14 years.

The two new hires will mean more than more swift and sure representation for the city.

“At times, it’s been all consuming,” Boddy said about his workload over the last year and the toll it’s taken, including sleepless nights, lost weight, endless days and missed dinners. “Professionally, it’s going to be better because they’ll be more people to do the work, and personally it’ll be better because it means there’s less of a demand on my time and I can get back to an established daily routine.”