Friday, February 5, 1999
Selectmen hire new town counsel
As of February 1, the Boston law firm of Deutsch Williams Brooks DeRensis Holland & Drachman, P.C. will be Carlisle's new town counsel. The formal announcement by the selectmen at their January 26 meeting capped a six-month search process begun after several town boards and departments expressed dissatisfaction with the services of former town counsel Kopelman and Paige, P.C.
Paul DeRensis, who will be the town's principal contact at the firm, was present at the selectmen's meeting and gave a background of the firm's credentials. The firm, which has 39 lawyers, currently serves as town counsel to the town of Nantucket, a position held for more than 12 years, and to the towns of Randolph and Cohasset. The town's search team report noted that the land use and environmental group of the firm has been involved in many development matters in Nantucket and Cohasset, including Chapter 61 and 61A purchases, land bank issues, comprehensive permits, zoning bylaw reviews, subdivision rules and regulations and wetlands protection.
DeRensis continued that the firm has also represented a number of public entities, a land bank, airport and water company. In addition to this experience in municipal law, the firm has special expertise in historic preservation, labor and land preservation law. DeRensis also stated that the firm has a 96 percent success rate in municipal litigation.
Last spring the selectmen embarked upon a comprehensive study of town counsel services based on concerns expressed over the years regarding the quality of services delivered by Kopelman and Paige. After reviewing the results of a survey of all town departments and committees conducted by selectmen John Ballantine and Doug Stevenson, the selectmen instructed town administrator David DeManche to prepare a request for proposals for new town counsel. The request was published in September and closed on October 16.
A search team, including Stevenson, planning board member Michael Epstein and resident Wayne Davis, was asked to review all proposals and make a recommendation. Nine firms responded to the request for proposals and five of these were interviewed. The search team report stated that the team "was extremely impressed with the quality of options available to the town." After a series of follow-up interviews in December, the team made a final recommendation to the selectmen in early January.
The selectmen will pay the new firm $3,000 a month as a retainer until July 1, based upon estimated usage of legal services townwide at an hourly rate of $120. The retainer covers Town Meeting, ethics issues, public records, licensing, procurement, contracts and land use advice but does not cover litigation, real estate transfers or labor matters which will be paid for on a case-by-case basis at an hourly rate of $140. After July 1, the retainer will be renegotiated based on the track record of actual usage by the town.
With respect to transition, selectman Vivian Chaput suggested that each town board make a recommendation about which outstanding matters should be turned over to Deutsch Williams and which cases should be completed by Kopelman and Paige. As of July 14 of last year, the selectmen decided not to reappoint Kopelman's firm as town counsel but to retain their services on a day-to-day basis until a new firm was selected or it was decided that the town would continue to employ them. Stevenson indicated that attorney Leonard Kopelman had agreed to be helpful in the transition.
In addition, the town counsel search team report recommended certain procedures for ensuring a smooth working relationship with the new town counsel. For example, given both the turnover of board members and the fact that the town relies on volunteers, the report suggested having a written memorandum of understanding and an annual review of the scope and quality of services provided. The report also suggested that town counsel make a board-by-board "check-up" at the start of the relationship, provide an annual or bi-annual seminar for new board members and attend selectmen's meetings monthly or bi-monthly.
The selectmen all heartily welcomed DeRensis. On his part, DeRensis summed up his attitude toward being selected by indicating that he will go beyond giving good legal advice. "I try to be a counselor to the town to help decide what is a legal issue and what is more appropriately decided by town boards or voters."
© 1999 The Carlisle Mosquito