Township approves discounted legal fees

December 13, 2019

Addressing questions as to whether the municipality conducts a bid process for legal services, Bloomfield Township Supervisor Leo Savoie said on Monday, December 9, that the board of trustees had formed a subcommittee and received eight or nine bids when the township originally chose Secrest Wardle as its general services legal provider.

Building on the point of value, Savoie proposed moving to five-year contract agreements with each of the township's three legal service providers. Under that proposal, he said each of the legal firms agreed to reduce their fees.

Secrest Wardle, which provides general legal services to the township, agreed to reduce its retainer legal fee of $12,500 per month by 10 percent provided the township agreed to a five-year contract. Rosati, Schultz, Joppich & Amtsbuechler PC, which conducts prosecutorial services for the township, also agreed reduce its retainer of $14,000 per month by 10 percent, provided the township agree to a five-year contact. And, Giarmarco, Mullins & Horton PC, which provides legal services pertaining to labor contracts and issues, agreed to reduce its hourly fee from $165 to $150, provided the township agree to a five-year contract.

Under the proposed agreements, the township would be required to pay back the discounted rate to the firm for each month of the discounted rate if it decided to terminate the contract.

Trustee Dani Walsh questioned whether the contracts would include provisions to protect the township if it decided to terminate contracts based on changes at any of the firms.

"When we did the (request for proposal), we picked based on specific lawyers. We picked based on their bench and who they had," Walsh said. "Let's say four-and-a-half years from now that there's turnover at Secrest Wardle, and (township attorney) Derk (Beckerleg) retires, or someone else leaves, and all of a sudden we are given another group of lawyers that we never would have hired, and we have to pay back all those years of savings. Is there a way to protect us in that case?"

Beckerleg said he had no issue in adding language to the contract that would preclude the township from having to pay back the discount if he were to leave Secrest Wardle. Savoie also said he could check with the other law firms to see if they would also agree to similar language. Further, the discounts wouldn't have to be repaid if any of the firms breached any part of its original contract with the township.

Trustee David Buckley said he wasn't in favor of extending the contracts to five years, despite the associated discounted rates.

"I'm not for it because I don't like to hamstring a future board," Buckley said. "I think that's a big issue. To me, the five years and the commitment of having to pay back $40,000 or $50,000 in potential savings – there's some other ways that have been put on the table that we could easily get to that and more, as I continually get quoted with 'shared sacrifice.' To me, at this point, if they would like to reduce their rate as part of shared sacrifice, that's great. But, to commit future boards to legal services to me is not something I want to do."

Savoie said the savings of $40,000 to $50,000 per year over a five-year length of the contract would provide nearly $250,000 in cumulative savings.

Trustee Neal Barnett concurred with Savoie, calling the proposal a "win-win" situation.

"I don't believe it straps or commits future boards to these firms because of the additional language, and I think it's a good suggestion, Dani," Barnett said, acknowledging Walsh's proposed amendment to the contract agreements.

Barnett also said the township is fortunate to have three excellent law firms that he said are charging the township "below competitive prices."

"I know what the market is, and to decrease that by another 10 percent, I think we are getting outstanding value financially in the township, and the residents should be very pleased that we are trying to get additional savings from some of the best law firms in the area," he said. "I'm certainly in favor."

Treasurer Brian Kepes commended Savoie for bringing the proposal forward.

"The reality is, if next year or two years from now that a board decides it doesn't want to continue with the practice and doesn't want to continue with the savings, then they are no worse off than we were today," he said. "I think it's a very creative way to save money and get the same services, and it's just good value. ... I don't know how we would lose here."

The board agreed to the proposed contract lengths and discounted rates with the added provision proposed by Walsh. The proposal passed by a vote of 6-1, with Buckley voting against it.

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