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Hartford City Council Wants To Hire Its Own Legal Counsel

JEFFREY B. COHEN

March 12, 2009

Dissatisfied with the legal advice it gets from the city's attorneys, Hartford's city council wants to hire legal counsel of its own.

The move, which is provided for in the city charter but is not included in this year's council budget, begins with an interview process that is set to start this week. Two law firms being considered are Day Pitney represented by Allan Taylor and Bracewell & Giuliani represented by former U.S. Attorney for Connecticut and former Associate U.S. Attorney General Kevin J. O'Connor.

"There's a real strong belief that the corporation counsel's office is no longer an independent [arbiter] of legal issues, that he is in fact the mayor's lawyer," Councilman Kenneth Kennedy said referring to city Corporation Counsel John Rose. "And that is not his intended role."

Kennedy said the city council may have to be "creative" when it comes to paying what could become a six-figure bill for legal services at a time when the city is projecting an $8 million deficit this year and a $40 million deficit next year.

"This is one of two options," said council member Pedro Segarra, himself a former city corporation counsel. The other option would be "to remove the current corporation counsel," but that would be difficult, Segarra said.

Unsure where the money to pay the bills would come from, Segarra suggested it could come from the corporation counsel's office itself. Kennedy said that if the numbers come in too high, he may decide against hiring outside counsel.

Rose could not be reached for comment. Sarah Barr, spokeswoman for Mayor Eddie A. Perez, said the mayor supports the council as it exercises its charter-given rights. She noted, however, that there is no money in the council's budget this year to pay for outside counsel.

Perez believes Rose is "attempting to provide the best possible legal advice to the entire city government," Barr said.

Earlier this week the council approved an ordinance allowing it to hire outside counsel. At that meeting, council President Calixto Torres confirmed that Taylor and O'Connor were the point men for their firms, but was unable to give a timeline for future hiring.

Some on the city council especially the three lawyers, Segarra, Matt Ritter, and Kennedy have expressed frustration with Rose's office. They have cited various instances in which Rose's office has provided legal advice that later turned out to be wrong, in their opinion.

Barr said those on the council who have "expressed the most dissatisfaction are those who have consistently misread the city charter, state statutes, and city ordinances."

"For those individuals," Barr said, "it is likely they will be disappointed no matter who serves as corporation counsel."

Reached in his office, Taylor confirmed his firm had agreed to be interviewed; O'Connor declined comment.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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