WILMINGTON — At a June 25 meeting, the Board of Selectmen voted to appoint Boston-based KP Law, PC as new town counsel following the dissolution of longtime counsel Deutsch Williams. The vote came with the provision that Town Manager Jeff Hull continue efforts to retain Attorney Dan Deutsch to cover the Olin Superfund Site issue.
This decision did not sit well with many in attendance.
“What did Deutsch Williams do so bad that you want to leave the town at a higher risk?” asked former Selectman Suzanne Sullivan.
Sullivan suggested that it was a “huge risk” to contract a different firm without certainty that Deutsch would agree to be retained for a single issue.
“Is he supposed to be that much of a bigger person than you guys? Because that’s what you’re asking.”
Resident and recent selectman candidate Rob Fasulo appealed to Wilmington voters.
“My comment’s to the people watching. There’s an election next year, and two of these individuals are up for reelection. Thank you.”
Resident Kelly Richards asked whether selectmen had spoken with abutters to the Olin site about the performance of the current law firm. She also asked whether discussions had been taken place with communities contracting the new firm and with similarly serious contamination issues to those in Wilmington.
“I think that’s an important consideration, and especially important to have someone who is a very good environmental lawyer, as Suzanne said.”
Hull suggested in a general response to argument comments that the town has a responsibility to assess holistically the issues which would require attorney assistance in its selection of a primary firm for legal counsel.
“There’s no question that’s (Olin) an important issue, but should the board be really making a decision about all of its legal services, its planning and conservation, its general counsel, its labor, all hinged upon one individual who has, granted, the history dealing with this terrible environmental situation?” said Hull.
According to Hull, of the two new firms formed from the former Deutsch Williams, only Brooks & DeRensis, P.C. answered the request for proposal issued by the town. Several members of the board characterized their performance in interviews as disappointing.
Selectmen Greg Bendel, Ed Loud, Jonathan Eaton, and Chairman Kevin Caira all identified KP Law as their top choice following firm interviews. All four voted in favor of the motion to make KP Law the new town counsel, while Selectman Michael McCoy voted in opposition.
The vote was taken following interviews with five firms, all of whom responded to the RFP issued by the town following the announcement by Deutsch Williams of its impending dissolution this past spring. Deutsch Williams provided legal counsel to the town for 15 years. Following its dissolution, new firms Brooks & DeRensis, and Valerio Dominello & Hillman, LLC were formed.
According to Hull, “something in the order of” 11 of the 21 attorneys associated with Deutsch Williams are not associated with Brooks & DeRensis. The firm these attorneys formed, which is identified on the Deutsch Williams website as Valerio Dominello & Hillman, focuses on labor and employment. This firm did not submit a proposal to the town.
McCoy asserts hiring KP Law would be a poor decision economically.
“All they’re appropriating is $50,000 to be used for Olin and New England Transrail,” McCoy said, noting that this was just the flat rate cost. “That’s insane. That’s crazy. I can’t see that happening. It’s going to go well above that.”
“Do you really think that they’re going to want to continue on doing Olin and New England Transrail knowing that they got the boot?” he added. “They’ve been here for 15 years.”
Bendel took issue with the idea that the town is “firing” its longtime firm.
“I guess I’m just challenged with the notion that we’re not retaining DeRensis as our counsel,” Bendel said. “We’re in this position because they (Deutsch Williams) have dissolved, as a firm, and a new fraction of that firm would like to become our new town counsel.”
Eaton stated that, in researching the issue, he talked with town officials in Nantucket. Nantucket recently switched to KP Law from Deutsch Williams, and cited cost as a driving factor in that switch. Eaton said that the official with whom he spoke characterized the coverage provided by KP as “…way superior.”
“I do agree that the institutional knowledge that attorney Dan Deutsch brings is likely irreplaceable,” said Eaton. “It’s something that has been going on for quite some time, and I would very strongly suggest and recommend that we find a way to retain his services for the New England Transrail and Olin Matters.”
Members of the board also took issue with accusations from the audience that the decision was a matter of political posturing. Bendel characterized himself as “…a schoolteacher volunteering his time.”
Loud added that Brooks and DeRensis is a different firm than Deutsch Williams, and that he was “very disappointed” with their interview performance. Based upon the fact that Dan Deutsch is retained as special counsel in other towns, Loud expressed confidence that Wilmington will also have that option.
In response to offering up the original motion to retain KP Law with Deutsch as special counsel, “I’m going to stick behind that decision, because I feel it’s best for the people of Wilmington.”
Eaton also made a personal appeal to such accusations.
“Some of you know that my brother is a survivor of acute myelogenous leukemia that may have come as a result of drinking groundwater that was contaminated. I have lived my entire life in Wilmington and until about seven or eight years ago my brother did, too. This is not a decision that I’m making for political purposes. It serves me no political advantage or any personal advantage.”
The transition to new legal counsel was scheduled to officially occur on July 1.