EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

May 18, 2013

Private law firm makes pitch of services to Methuen council

No date set for City Solicitor McQuillan's departure

By Brian Messenger

---- — METHUEN — The search is underway for a private law firm to assume the duties of outgoing City Solicitor Peter McQuillan, with one Boston firm already offering legal services to the City Council for $175 per hour.

With McQuillan expected to step down amid controversy later this month, the council may hire a private firm in his place until a permanent successor is named. Chairman Sean Fountain said the council will interview multiple firms before making a decision.

Councilors on Thursday heard a 20-minute presentation from municipal law firm Kopelman and Paige, whose area clients include the cities of Newburyport and Amesbury and towns of Georgetown and Groveland.

Firm representatives Len Kopelman and Mark Reich told councilors that Kopelman and Paige would provide legal services to the city for $175 per hour and attend all regular City Council meetings for a flat $200-per-meeting fee. No contract would be required, they said.

Reich, a North Andover resident, said the firm can start working for Methuen immediately.

“Each of our clients — each of our cities, each of our towns — has a single point of contact,” said Reich. “A single person that you can rely on as your counsel. And in this case that would be me. I’d be available 24/7. I’ve got my cell phone with me day and night.”

In addition to support staff, Reich said Kopelman and Paige employs 48 lawyers, including specialists with litigation, elections, construction, public health, land use, environmental and green energy issues and Open Meeting Law and public records compliance.

“Behind me are 50 attorneys with varying specialties,” said Reich. “You call me. I make sure you get the right person. I can put you in touch with that person, or you can run all your issues through me. We develop the process (together).”

When City Councilor Jennifer Kannan asked if Reich had civil litigation experience, Reich responded by saying he has “argued cases all the way through the Supreme Judicial Court in Massachusetts and in federal courts.”

Kannan told the firm representatives that she’s heard good things about them. “You came highly recommended to us,” said Kannan.

The search for a new solicitor stalled April 1 following a series of controversies and has yet to pick up again.

Fountain announced May 6 that McQuillan would step down as solicitor. No formal departure date has been made public.

“We just haven’t come up with a set date,” said Fountain on Thursday. “My hope is to have something in place for next week.”

McQuillan could not be reached for comment for this story.

McQuillan’s departure will end months of controversy that began Jan. 7, when councilors voted against reappointing him to a two-year term. McQuillan has retained his job as Methuen’s top lawyer as the council worked to find a replacement, but the search to find a successor was hampered by numerous problems, including a Feb. 6 meeting held in violation of the state Open Meeting Law.

Between six and eight solicitor candidates were interviewed at the secret meeting. Two of four finalists for the job then dropped out of the running within days of their names being made public on Feb. 26.

One month later, on March 26, McQuillan sent a text message to solicitor finalist Richard D’Agostino while D’Agostino was interviewing for the job with the City Council. News of the text message to D’Agostino prompted calls for an investigation by Councilor Tom Ciulla. The Eagle-Tribune also requested and obtained McQuillan’s phone and email records, but not before McQuillan reviewed and redacted them.

A motion to appoint D’Agostino to a two-year term as solicitor was defeated 5 to 4 on April 1.

The city eventually turned over an unredacted copy of McQuillan’s cell and office phone records, and his municipal emails.

The Eagle-Tribune discovered that McQuillan twice called one of D’Agostino’s professional references, Andrew Gradzewicz, from his office phone days before Gradzewicz unexpectedly pulled his reference. Gradzewicz was also the subject of the text message McQuillan sent to D’Agostino March 26.

Additionally, McQuillan had a list of questions aimed at D’Agostino in his emails, a list he emailed to himself days before D’Agostino’s interview with the City Council.