Select Board votes not to accept free legal advice Discussion contentious, offer unclear
By Theresa Knapp
After a 90-minute discussion during a mostly-contentious meeting, the Select Board voted on Dec. 13 not to replace current legal counsel Peter Durning of Mackie Shea Durning PC, who is handling environmental matters for the Town of Hopedale in a lawsuit regarding 364 West Street, with David Lurie of Lurie Friedman LLP.
The vote was 2-1-0 with Brian Keyes and Louis Arcudi III in favor, and Glenda Hazard abstaining.
The issue was put on the Dec. 13 agenda after it was introduced by Chairman Keyes during “Public and Board Member Comments” at the board’s Nov. 22 meeting. At that time, Keyes mentioned a social media post by resident Liz Reilly, who is the lead plaintiff in the so-called “10-citizen lawsuit” against the town regarding the purchase of Chapter 61 land at 364 West Street; those citizens are represented by Lurie in that suit.
According to Keyes, the November social media post said Lurie had offered to represent the town for free in its litigation against the Grafton & Upton Railroad. As of press time, Hopedale Town News had not seen documentation regarding that offer.
On Nov. 22, Keyes said, “This board has shown that it has faith in who is currently representing them. At the end of the day, we feel very comfortable with the competency of both Mr. Riley from KP Law as well as what Mr. Durning has been able to provide now for quite some time.” He listed several reasons why a change would not be appropriate and said Lurie would likely have a conflict of interest if he represented the town in one matter while suing the town in another matter.
“Anyway, I did want to respond to that. That we’re going to stay with who’s currently representing us on the matter and that’s how it’s going to be,” Keyes said.
At that Nov. 22 meeting, Hazard said the board had not yet discussed the matter. Keyes clarified his comments were his personal opinion.
That November exchange kicked off the social media thread referenced by Keyes on Dec. 13.
Hazard also commented on the post which Keyes said “opened it up to an open meeting law violation.” Hopedale has a three-member Select Board. Both board members posted using their personal social media accounts. Keyes said, “I put a comment out there, on social media, saying — paraphrasing here — that I felt personally ‘No way, Jose’ on Mr. Lurie representing the Town of Hopedale for free. I got challenged by that by this particular board member [Hazard]…the item is on the agenda because of that.”
Hazard said at the start of a contentious discussion that was moderated by third board member Arcudi, “I think this started because there was a representation on social media about the board having already discussed this, and I wanted to point out that that was not a foregone conclusion - that we haven’t had that discussion and I appreciate having this discussion now.”
Keyes said, “I don’t recall ever making a statement that the board had discussed it and that we had made a decision or I had single-handedly made a decision that Mr. Lurie wouldn’t get consideration to represent the Town of Hopedale…My statement was that I am, back it up, in the last open discussion [Nov. 22], I’m perfectly comfortable with our representation that we have; I think they’ve served us up until now, so I wouldn’t even bring this up for discussion and vote until I was pressed by you [Hazard] in an open forum so here we are.”
Keyes said he has the authority as chairman to decide what items are placed on the agenda.
Because the board had not heard from Lurie himself, it was not clear if Lurie was offering to become sole town counsel; to replace current counsel, serve as co-counsel, or serve as a consultant to current counsel in the West Street matter only; or to assist the town only if it goes before the Surface Transportation Board, a possibility if the current settlement agreement with GURR becomes void.
“Until we have clarification, we have no idea what the next steps are, and until then I don’t see a reason that we would even consider changing counsel or doing anything,” Arcudi said after an hour of discussion. “We all agree right now, there’s no need to change counsel. Peter Durning is our counsel for West Street, KP Law is our counsel to fight the 10 residents lawsuit, and we are going to move on to the next topic.”
Hazard abstained from the vote, saying the matter had “escalated” and that Keyes had missed her point.
“I’m surprised that this is the motion on the table. This was not the point I was trying to make. This is not a good time to simply fire our attorney and I never suggested that. What I’m saying is that I think Attorney Lurie has something that he can add to the mix going forward but right now we don’t know what ‘forward’ is. So why this motion is on the table is confusing to me from the start.”
The matter can be revisited by the future.
Municipal meeting recordings can be found at www.townhallstreams.com