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Sunday, July 10, 2011

Town officials’ lawyer fees back on the agenda

Will the deadlock on whether the town will pay for private lawyers to defend town officials from Council member Lisa DiBello's charges be broken?

We'll see what happens at the Town Council meeting Monday night, July 11.

For the past two months, the Town Council has not been able to vote to cover private lawyer for town officials targeted by Councilor Lisa DiBello's legal action .

Last March, DiBello filed charges against the Town and against nine present and former town officials for conspiring against her over a 2005 incident. In May, her lawyer said DiBello would ask the RI Human Rights Commission to waive the administrative proceedings and permit DiBello to sue the Town and other town officials in state Superior Court.

Most of the nine complaint targets have requested the town cover the cost of private lawyers to defend them from DiBello’s charges including Councilors, Gregg Avedisian and Marge Frank. But Avedisian and Frank were advised by the Town Solicitor not to vote on their own indemnification requests, given the potential conflict of interest - they would be voting on a happen of direct benefit to themselves. With DiBello’s recusal, that left only two Council members left to vote on the indemnification request. However, our Town Charter requires three votes.

But it looks like at least a partial solution has been found to break the deadlock.

Three other town officials in Lisa DiBello’s legal crosshairs have apparently found a private lawyer to represent them. These are Town Administrator William DiLibero, Chief of Police Jack Shippee and GPS Coordinator Steve McCandless.

Retainer agreements for the three of them from Warwick attorney Kathleen Hagerty are part of the agenda package going before the Council on Monday, July 11.

Under the retainers, Ms. Hagerty would bill at a reduced rate - $250 an hour – and will require an up-front retainer of $5000 each. Presumably, the Town of Charlestown would pay these bills under the state law and town ordinance that requires indemnification of town officials when they are performing their official duties.

While Avedisian and Frank face an unresolved ethical dilemma when it comes to their own request for coverage of legal costs, that problem doesn’t seem apparent when it comes to voting on whether to grant the requests from DiLibero, Shippee and McCandless.

The Town Council added $100,000 for anticipated litigation costs to the proposed town budget that the voters approved on June 6. This is the likely source for the $15,000 in initial retainer costs, if three of the four council members potentially eligible to vote on Monday approve the indemnification requests.

The papers posted with the Town Council agenda for July 11 do not contain similar retainer agreements from the other six targeted officials, although the earlier requests from former Town Administrator Richard Sartor and Gregg Avedisian are still in the packet. The request from Councilor Marge Frank is not and her intentions are not indicated.

We’ll have to wait and see Monday night to see if the requests from Sartor and Avedisian are also voted on.

Former council members Forrester Safford, Candi Dunn and Richard Hosp have not made a request for town indemnification. Safford is depicted in DiBello’s complaint as an active participant in the alleged conspiracy, while Dunn and Hosp were described as simply approving DiBello’s firing as Parks and Recreation Director.

Author: Will Collette