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Commissioners' Legal Battles Paid For By County Insurance Program

by on March 31, 2015 12:49 PM

The Centre County Board of Commissioners is trying to avoid forcing taxpayers to foot the bill for the various legal battles the county is fighting.

At the commissioners’ meeting on Tuesday, Commissioner Michael Pipe said that the county’s insurance program is currently handling the three separate lawsuits being brought against the county by two judges and Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller. 

Pipe said that Mary Lou Maierhofer of the Holidaysburg-based Margolis Edelstein law firm is representing the county in these suits as part of the Pennsylvania Counties Risk Pool insurance program, which is provided by the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania.

“The last action we took was to direct the staff to look into the possibility of hiring additional legal counsel,” Pipe said. “When we were informed that we would be represented by our insurance’s attorney, those directions did not need to be followed out.”

Commissioner Chris Exarchos said that the county has spent about $24,000 on legal fees since hiring the law firm of Abom and Kutulakis on Jan. 27 and the law firm of Fetterhoff and Zilli on Feb. 3.

Attorney William Fetterhoff was contracted to provide legal advice to Centre County Solictior Louis Glantz at $200 an hour. Attorney John Abom represented the commissioners in a dispute with Parks Miller in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court at $170 an hour.

Centre County Administrator Tim Boyde told in February that the county had spent $24,250 on legal fees for both firms. Exarchos says this figure has remained unchanged, thanks in part to the legal services being provided by the county's insurance program.

The lawsuits currently facing the county stem from allegations that the county illegally provided personal cell phone records of judges and prosecutors to defense attorneys in response to Right to Know requests filed with the county. A hearing in the case is scheduled for Thursday morning.

Exarchos said that any taxpayer money being spent on legal fees are “resources that could be better used elsewhere,” but added the commissioners would consider hiring additional legal counsel if necessary.

“When faced with challenges like this we have to respond,” Exarchos said. “Our responsibility is to protect the interests of the residents of our county.”

The commissioners also approved a three-year contract with the DuBois-based Service Access & Management, Inc. company to manage the finances of the county’s mental health, intellectual disabilities and early intervention office.

Pipe opposed the proposal, expressing discomfort with “privatizing” part of the county’s services. Commissioners Steve Dershem and Exarchos pointed out that past attempts to hire new employees have gone poorly due to the complicated nature of the MH/ID/EI office’s finances and state regulatory requirements, and added that SAM has a proved track record with the county.

The contract passed 2-1, and will last until the end of the 2018 fiscal year. The total contract cost is $523,634, with the state covering $499,128 of that amount.


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Michael Martin Garrett is a reporter and editor for who covers local government, the courts, the arts and writes the Keeping the Faith column. He's a Penn State alumnus, a published poet and the bassist in a local indie rock band.
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