S E L E C
T C O M M I T T E E O
N L E G A L R E V I E W
MISSION STATEMENT HERE.
New Commission Appointed at
Selectmen's Meeting on June 21, 2012:
Members: Jeff Eglash; Howard Aibel; Maryanne Bolella;
Kevin Korsh; Angeles T. Rodriguez
Final report presented and discussed, 9-3-13.
Legal Review, Second Meeting, August
Full Committee in attendance (one member not in this
Selectman Dennis Tracey described
the work of 2008 Committee. Charge more circumscribed this
time, in that only years between 2008 and 2011 to be reviewed.
Previously, there had been a seven year "look back" and the seven
member Committee was able to pick particular situations to review in
This new Committee will next take steps to interview Town
Administrator, Town Attorney
and Land Use Director. Similar approach, in About Town's
thinking, as the newly reconstituted Board of Ethics took when
reviewing complaint against candidate from 2011 election cycle.
Discussion of Freedom of Information strictures (i.e. any
discussions by full Select Committee or quorum of same, outside
"meeting" actually would be a meeting, as explained by one
member). Attorneys (4) on the Committee plus one non-lawyer - but
knowledge of FOI is most familiar to those who have operated in the
Possible discussion with Board of
Education staff. Two members of the public present. We left
before election of chair. and Sec'y.
Special Board of Selectmen, Thursday,
January 31, 2008 at 9:30am in the Town Hall Meeting Room
Discussion/decision regarding selecting members for the
Board of Selectmen, Thursday,
January 24, 2008 at 11am in the Town Hall Meeting Room
decision regarding the Mission Statement for Select Committee for Legal
Review/shortened with addenda,
- Discussion/decision re: number of members on the
SelectCommittee for Legal Review/seven (7), up from original 3
- Discussion/decision re: selecting
members for the Select Committee for Legal Review/five (5) candidates
of the 17 agreed upon, but more discussion needed to winnow down 12
remaining to 2...Special Meeting will be arranged for next week to
complete this adjourned meeting.
After legal review: 'Verdict' favorable for town
Written by Patricia Gay
Wednesday, 25 June 2008 11:44
The town of Weston is being well served by its legal counsel — G.
Kenneth Bernhard and Patricia Sullivan, attorneys with Cohen and Wolf.
That is what Dennis Tracey, chairman of the Select Committee on Legal
Review, reported to the Board of Selectmen on Thursday, June 19.
Winding up a six-month study and investigation, the committee gave its
findings verbally to the board and said a written report would follow
In January, First Selectman Woody Bliss and Selectman Gayle Weinstein
appointed the seven-member ad-hoc committee to review the performance
of the town’s legal counsel, and make a recommendation as to whether
the town should solicit proposals from other law firms.
Over the course of the next six months, the committee reviewed
extensive documentation, cases, contracts, bills and billing
statements, and information from towns comparable to Weston. It also
interviewed 20 witnesses, and received written input from the public
and through testimony at a public hearing.
Mr. Tracey said it was the committee’s finding that in terms of overall
quality, town counsel’s representation of Weston has been “first rate.”
“Throughout their tenure, they have been responsive to the town’s
boards and commissions. They have been flexible and practical and have
done the job right,” Mr. Tracey said.
In addition to good performance, the firm’s fees, hourly rates, and
retainer are in line with those in other towns, Mr. Tracey said. He
noted the firm has even gone so far as to make things less expensive
for the town by utilizing the services of state agencies whenever
Cohen and Wolf was appointed as the town’s legal counsel in 2000. Mr.
Bernhard represents the town in general matters, and Ms. Sullivan
represents the town in land use matters. In the current fiscal
year, ending July 1, the town is paying Cohen and Wolf an annual
retainer of $85,300, which covers general advice and office hours one
day at week at town hall. The firm receives additional money from
the town’s litigation account and from parties that pay the town’s
attorneys fees on matters.
According to Mr. Bernhard, the firm received approximately $228,070
from the town of Weston for calendar year 2005, $277,946 in 2006, and
$309,000 in 2007.
Mr. Bernhard said he charges the town the rate of $200 an hour, half
his usual billing rate.
As to whether the town should solicit proposals from other firms, Mr.
Tracey said it makes sense to review the relationship with town counsel
periodically to make sure it is effective, and possibly obtain bids or
requests for proposals every three years. He recommended a special
committee be formed to help the selectmen with that process.
The legal review committee also looked into whether the town should
consider hiring an in-house attorney, dedicated to the town.
Mr. Tracey said the committee did not believe an in-house attorney
would be in the best interest of Weston. “An in-house attorney works
better for much bigger towns. A single, in-house attorney could not
duplicate what the law firm does. Cohen and Wolf has a variety of
attorneys. There would also be an increase in cost and some duplication
with an in-house attorney,” Mr. Tracey said.
Although the committee found no faults with town counsel’s performance,
it did have some issues with how town officials utilize town counsel’s
services. Mr. Tracey said the town attorneys could become more
like “risk managers” if officials called on the attorneys earlier in a
matter rather than later.
As an example, Mr. Tracey cited an incident involving a bidding package
that town counsel was not brought in on until the bid went out. In
addition, the contracts were not reviewed by counsel before they were
signed. There could be better coordination with the legal
representation of boards and commissions and greater review and control
over town counsel’s billings, Mr. Tracey said.
Committee member David Fleming discussed several other issues of
concern and offered the committee’s recommendations:
• Some boards have the right to use their own counsel, but the Board of
Selectmen controls the finances. All engagements of outside counsel
should be reviewed first by the town attorney, and then submitted to
the selectmen for approval.
• Every invoice from town counsel should be signed off by the board or
commission that ordered the work.
• If litigation is festering and the town knows it will exceed the
budget, the town administrator should keep the town attorney apprised
of the budget.
• The town attorney should give regular quarterly status reports to the
• All new contracts of $10,000 or more should be signed off by the town
attorney. Any changes made to a contract should be reviewed by the town
attorney. (Mr. Fleming said there were instances when contracts were
modified but the parties did not discuss the legal implications with
the town attorney.)
• Having the town attorney come to town hall on Wednesdays for office
hours is helpful, but not everyone can make it during that time. There
should be some alternate office hours.
• The town attorney should review the minutes of all boards and
commissions on a regular basis.
• If the town attorney recommends advice and a board decides not to
follow it, the board’s decision could be overridden by the Board of
• The town should maintain permanent records of all legal proceedings.
After the meeting, Mr. Bernhard said he was delighted with the
committee’s report. “After an exhaustive investigation, an impartial
and extremely qualified citizens group has concluded that the services
provided by my firm, my partner Pat Sullivan, and me are first-rate. We
take a lot of pride in the hard work we provide to our clients. It is
quite flattering to have someone agree that we give good legal services
for good value,” he said.
Mr. Bliss said the town has been well served by Cohen and Wolf and
admonished critics who spoke out against them at public meetings.
“I’m not surprised that the negative comments that came from a few
residents were made by those who sued the town and lost those cases,”
Ms. Weinstein said the review put an end to issues that had been
floating around town. “I am hopeful that the Board of Selectmen can
take the recommendations of the committee and create a better system of
checks and balances to facilitate communication between our boards and
our town attorney,” she said.
The next step, Ms. Weinstein said, will be to review the committee’s
final written report. She said she is satisfied with town counsel’s
Mr. Bliss and Ms. Weinstein thanked the committee for their hard work
and diligence. “They did a good job,” Ms. Weinstein said.
Mr. Tracey said he is grateful to the members of the committee who did
their best to work hard without political agendas.
The committee will prepare a publicly available report within the next
week. It will disband on June 30.
In addition to Mr. Tracey and Mr. Fleming, other members of the Select
Committee on Legal Review include Lincoln Briggs, Elayne Robertson
Demby, Steven Ezzes, Douglas Olin, and Keith Watanabe.
By Neil Vigdor
Published January 28 2008
Beset by a series of costly lawsuits, the town has already exceeded its
budget for outside legal help by more than 100 percent this fiscal
year, according to the town's chief legal counsel.
According to Town Attorney John Wayne Fox, the town's $600,000 budget
for hiring outside lawyers has already been overspent by $750,000.
A number of high-profile lawsuits are the problem, Fox said in a memo
to the members of the finance board's law committee.
One is the suit over access to Greenwich Point by Paul Kempner, a
Stamford cyclist who was cited for trespassing in 2005 after he refused
to pay the $10 nonresident daily admission fee to get into the park.
Defending the town from that case, in U.S. District Court in New Haven,
will likely cost $212,000 this year.
Fox, who was hired in 2005 for a base fee of $12,500 a month when the
town outsourced much of its legal department functions, in turn hired
the regional law firm Day Pitney to handle the matter. Last year the
town paid Day Pitney an estimated $162,000 for the case. While
the Board of Estimate and Taxation and the Representative Town Meeting
both overwhelmingly approved the additional funds for legal
representation, some elected officials were uncomfortable with the
situation, especially when Fox said some of the money had already be
"That's a little bit of concern to me," said Jeffrey Ramer, a new
member of the BET who was elected in November.
But Nancy Barton, a local lawyer who is a member of the BET's Law
Committee, said the supplemental appropriation might not be sufficient.
"I think we all need to appreciate that he (Fox) probably will be
back," Barton said.
Fox pointed out that he had to go back to the BET and RTM twice during
the last fiscal year for supplemental appropriations because he
exceeded his $500,000 budget for outside attorneys by $700,000.
In previous years, the town's attorney's office requested the full
amount it anticipated for outside legal fees up front, but Fox had to
report to the BET before the second half of the money was released.
It's a process that should be reviewed, BET Chairman Stephen Walko said
in a telephone interview.
Anticipated expenses from other lawsuits include:
* $260,000 for fighting a discrimination suit by police officers who
said they were passed over for promotions because of their military
* $135,000 to fight a wrongful death suit by the family of a
22-year-old arson-murder victim, whose parents said his death could
have been prevented had firefighters checked his entire apartment house
during the blaze;
* $228,000 to appeal a judge's decision in favor of a police lieutenant
who said he was wrongfully passed over for promotion, including the
reimbursement for legal fees that the town's insurance carrier will pay.
In addition to those cases, Fox estimated the town's expenses of
joining a multitown lawsuit against the Federal Aviation
Administration's new flight paths over Fairfield County at $116,000 for
the current fiscal year.
The total budget for the town's law department, which has six lawyers
altogether, is $1.7 million for the current fiscal year. Fox said that
some of the 250 lawsuits handled annually by his office require outside
counsel to be hired because they involved municipal employees and could
create a potential conflict of interest for the town.
The town's contract with Fox's Stamford law firm Curtis, Brinckerhoff
& Barrett pays $12,500 per month for 50 hours of services and a
$250 hourly fee for each additional hour Fox works. Most of the money
goes to him, rather than his firm.When the arrangement with Fox was set
up, officials offset the added cost by not filling a vacant assistant
town attorney's post that would have paid about $107,000.
Fox said that he earned between $185,000 and $190,000 from the town for
the 2007 calendar year but wrote-off $43,000 in billable expenses as a
"I'm not complaining about that," Fox said.