DERBY – Selectman Laura Dolgin is concerned that an attorney hired by the town could have a conflict of interest in representing it before the Public Service Board.
The selectmen voted to hire Montpelier attorney Richard Saudek of Cheney, Brock and Saudek at a recent meeting.
Saudek has also been hired by the village of Derby Center and the town of Holland for hearings regarding the proposed development of two wind turbines in Derby Line.
Dolgin said Saudek works for the same firm as attorney Chris Smart, who represents the village of Derby Center in two lawsuits regarding water and sewer allotments.
“I believe we have an adversarial relationship with Chris Smart,” Dolgin said at Monday evening’s select board meeting.
Selectmen Karen Jenne said Saudek didn’t think there was a conflict.
The apparent conflict Dolgin is referring to has to do with a years-old disagreement between the town and Derby Center over water and sewer issues, Saudek said Tuesday.
“It has no bearing on this matter,” he said, and it was his understanding that the officials for each municipality were made aware of the situation and still decided to hire him.
Saudek is no newcomer to energy development issues, having represented the towns of Lowell, Sheffield and Searsburg in negotiating with wind companies.
“If they wind up taking inconsistent positions, I’ll have to change the representation, based on what happens,” Saudek said. But at this early stage, with the first Public Service Board hearing coming up Monday, he sees no reason for each municipality to pay a separate attorney to file similar documents.
Chairman of the select board Brian Smith said the old litigation is “water under the bridge.” But he added that he, too, had concerns about Saudek and Smart working out of the same office. He noted that Saudek is very well respected.
“I think all lawyers work together anyway,” Selectman Beula Shattuck said.
The municipalities are sort of sharing Saudek’s services – and saving a lot of money in doing so – in the first round at least.
Once it gets to the substance of each client’s concerns, he said he’ll have to start billing them individually.
Payment was another concern of Dolgin’s Monday evening. “I’m just curious how we paid this attorney,” she said, noting that the town’s budget for legal matters is only $15,000.
But Jenne said in this early phase, Saudek estimates it will cost about $500. If and when the matter gets to a point where expert testimony is required, the cost could be anywhere from $8,000 to $150,000, Jenne said.
Shattuck asked why they were spending time on the conversation since they’d already hired Saudek.
“Because we don’t want to waste taxpayer money, Beula,” Smith said.
Dolgin said she was voicing concerns just in case there was a potential problem.
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