, Newburyport, MA

October 13, 2012

Town on hook for $17,500 in fees

Newburyport Daily News

---- — WEST NEWBURY — In addition to potentially funding 80 percent of the $100,000 settlement with former finance director Tracy Blais, taxpayers will be footing the bill for an additional $17,500 in legal and other related expenses.

In a phone interview last week, selectmen Chairman Bert Knowles confirmed that Massachusetts Interlocal Insurance Association will cover the majority of legal fees accrued over the past 11/2 years by the town as well as Selectman Glenn Kemper and former selectmen Tom Atwood and John McGrath, who are named as individual defendants in Blais’ lawsuit.

Knowles did not know the total amount of legal fees to be covered by MIIA.

But he said taxpayers will be responsible for a $7,500 insurance deductible. The deductible — coupled with a $10,000 legal bill amassed by Atwood, which is partial payment for legal fees accumulated when he hired a Boston law firm immediately after Blais lodged her suit — are the town’s only out-of-pocket expenses beyond the settlement amount, Knowles said.

Under a provision of state law adopted by the town in May 1980 and reaffirmed by a vote of selectmen on June 29, 2011, Atwood and Kemper can not be held liable for legal fees because they were serving as selectmen during the time period listed in the lawsuit.

According to the law, the town “shall indemnify and save harmless municipal officers, elected or appointed, from personal financial loss and expense, including reasonable legal fees and costs, if any, in an amount not to exceed $1 million, arising out of any claim, demand, suit or judgment by reason of any act or omission, except an intentional violation of civil rights of any person, if the official at the time of such act or omission was acting within the scope of his official duties or employment.”

Although he was not a municipal officer at the time, McGrath was also released from liability as part of the settlement negotiations, Knowles said.

Town Counsel Michael McCarron confirmed that although the town “was not directly involved in negotiations with the insurance company regarding John McGrath’s legal expenses,” he believes the majority of those fees were also paid by the insurance company.

Neither Knowles nor McCarron could say what, if any, impact the lawsuit and settlement might have on the town’s insurance rate going forward.

— Jennifer Solis, correspondent