The Centre County Commissioners have hired a new law firm to help the county deal with a number of legal issues related to Right to Know requests.
The county is a defendant in several interlocking lawsuits from two judges and the Centre County District Attorney, each of whom allege that the county violated their privacy by providing their phone records in response to Right to Know requests from defense attorneys.
To help them deal with the fallout, the commissioners hired Craig Staudenmaier of the Harrisburg-based Nauman Smith law firm on Monday.
“Staudenmaier is an expert in Right to Know legislation,” commissioner Chris Exarchos said. “He will be of great assistance to us.”
Exarchos said that Staudenmaier’s engagement letter with the county calls for $300 an hour for his services, as well as $225 an hour for an associate attorney, $185 an hour for a law clerk and $175 an hour for a paralegal. The county will be paying all costs for Staudenmaier’s services.
Mary Lou Maierhofer, who is being paid for through the county’s insurance program instead of taxpayer dollars, is also representing the county in the various Right to Know lawsuits. However, Exarchos said that Maierhofer’s primary focus is to keep the county from paying monetary damages to the parties suing the county, while the commissioner’s legal concerns are quite a bit broader.
Staudenmaier may help defend the county in court, but he will also provide advice to the county on how to comply with the myriad Right to Know requests that are still coming in. One such pending request comes from a union reform organization that has requested the address of every county employee for mass mailing purposes, according to Centre County Administrator Tim Boyde.
The commissioners first hired special legal counsel back in January to deal with the allegations that Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller forged a judge’s signature on a fake court order (which is unrelated to the Right to Know lawsuits).
Since then, Boyde told StateCollege.com in February, that the county has spent $24,250 on legal fees. Boyde has also told StateCollege.com that the county has $250,000 in a contingency fund to help offset unexpected expenses.
On Monday, the commissioners said that the legal costs haven’t increased since February, in part because the county isn’t directly paying for Maierhofer’s services. However, that figure may start to tick upward again now that Staudenmaier is contracted with the county.
“This decision allows our staff that are still working with Right to Know requests to make sure we’re dotting our I’s and crossing our T’s,” commissioner Michael Pipe said.
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