NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Local News

October 8, 2012

Town will pay $10K for selectman's legal bills

WEST NEWBURY — The Town of West Newbury will pay $10,000 toward legal fees that former Selectman Tom Atwood accrued trying to defend himself against a lawsuit filed last year by the previous finance director.

Town Counsel Michael McCarron confirmed the amount of the fee settlement on Thursday but not before harsh words were exchanged among some of the parties involved.

For months Atwood has attempted to resolve over $40,000 in legal fees owed to the Boston law firm, Foley Hoag. According to McCarron, the Boston firm recently agreed to accept a settlement amount of $35,000. The Finance Board approved a reserve fund transfer to cover the $10,000 expense and Massachusetts Interlocal Insurance Association — the town’s insurance company — will pay the balance.

Atwood hired the firm after former Finance Director Tracy Blais lodged a lawsuit against him and the town in June 2011. Selectman Glenn Kemper and former Selectman John McGrath were also named in the suit, which asserts discrimination, defamation and failure to honor Blais’ contract. The men strongly reject the charges.

This summer an agreement in the Blais suit was reached; last month the Finance Committee approved a $40,000 reserve fund transfer to bind it. The balance of the as-yet-undisclosed settlement is on the warrant for a Special Town Meeting on Oct. 29.

According to a document filed in Salem Superior Court, Blais was initially seeking $500,000 in damages. However, discussions on the actual amount of the suit and other details have been held in private sessions.

Despite a vote taken by selectmen in 2011, which affirmed that as sitting selectmen at the time the suit was lodged Atwood and Kemper would be personally indemnified, the issue of the outstanding legal fees has dragged on. Last fall MIIA insisted that Atwood and Kemper retain the same lawyer, but agreed it could be one that was separate from the firm representing the town. In April, MIIA agreed to pay $9,000 in legal fees Kemper accrued prior to combining legal services with Atwood.

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