NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Local News

October 8, 2012

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

(Continued)

But the inability to resolve his bill was a source of great consternation for Atwood — and one that he believes is politically motivated. In a letter to selectmen issued on Oct. 4, Atwood said he feared the lack of follow through by selectmen sets a “troubling and dangerous” precedent.

“It is saying to our citizen volunteers on Planning Board, Conservation Commission and other municipal entities that they may be open to lawsuits in the future, but there is no guarantee of personal indemnification by the town or adequate and unbiased legal representation.

“More disturbing is that some individuals may not have had all the facts for proper decision-making and certain false representations were made in order to get approval of a settlement. Did the Finance Committee know that legal bills would not be fully settled when voting on the settlement agreement? Did the Board of Selectmen know this as well?” Atwood asks.

But in a statement on Thursday, McCarron strongly denied that he falsely represented any information. What was at issue, he said, was the reasonableness of the fees in question.

“The problem was that Mr. Atwood’s attorneys, Foley Hoag, billed four times what the other attorneys had charged for the same work. A review of the billing statements indicated several items which our insurer refused to recognize as legitimate expenses,” McCarron explained.

For months he facilitated negotiations between Atwood’s attorney and MIIA at no cost to Atwood and thought they had reached an acceptable agreement. McCarron said Foley Hoag previously agreed to the $35,000 settlement, but the resolution hit a snag last week when he learned the firm still intended to hold Atwood responsible for the difference between the original bill and the settlement amount.

“I indicated that this was unacceptable for the town and that the payment had to be accepted as full payment of this obligation,” McCarron said. Ultimately, Foley Hoag agreed Atwood would not incur any legal expenses.

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