By DOTTY NIST
Thirty-nine attorneys and 12 law firms have responded to the Walton County Board of County Commissioners’ (BCC) request for qualifications (RFQs) and advertising seeking legal services. This was reported at the Jan. 10 BCC meeting at the Walton County Courthouse.
Lynn Hoshihara, county attorney, has accepted another position in Tallahassee but is serving on an interim basis with the Office of the County Attorney during the hiring process for a new county attorney or law firm to represent the BCC.
It was decided at the Jan. 10 BCC meeting that individual commissioners would be provided, for their review, with all the RFQ responses and applications for the legal services position.
Originally, County Administrator Greg Kisela had envisioned a three-member review panel to go through the responses and applications, review them to see which would meet minimum standards, and short-list five to seven applications from individual attorneys and three to five responses by law firms to be brought before the commissioners at their Jan. 24 meeting.
Kisela had proposed that the panel consist of himself, Walton County Clerk of Courts Martha Ingle, and South Walton Tourist Development Council Executive Director Dawn Moliterno. However, at the meeting, Kisela said that Ingle had asked not to be included because her attorney was among the applicants. He suggested that Assistant County Administrator Gary Demers be the third member of the panel in her place.
South Walton County resident Mary Nielson asked if the Adkinson Law Firm was among the applicants, and Kisela responded that this was so.
Nielson brought up the issue of the Adkinson firm having served as personal attorney for Moliterno and also for District 1 Commissioner Scott Brannon. She wondered why Moliterno would not ask to be excused from the panel, since Ingle had done so. “This is nothing against Ms. Moliterno, it is a relationship issue,” Nielson explained.
Moliterno later confirmed that she had used the Adkinson firm at times for legal services, along with another local law firm. She said that prior to the meeting she had been unaware of Ingle’s decision not to serve on the panel.
Kisela suggested giving the individual commissioners all of the responses and applications, along with a summary of minimum qualifications to be drafted by county administration. District 3 Commissioner Larry Jones stated his support of this idea, and Kisela was given direction to proceed in this manner.
Kisela agreed to provide the commissioners with the qualification summary by the end of the week, along with all the RFQ responses and applications. He suggested that the individual commissioners choose their top five to seven applications/responses and bring those forward to the next BCC meeting for selection and ranking of the top three to five by the BCC, with the goal of interviewing those applicants at the first BCC meeting in February.
Brannon confirmed that the Adkinson Law Firm had represented him personally. He said that, prior to allowing any of the applications/responses to come to him, he would seek an opinion from the Florida Ethics Commission on the matter.
The commissioners had indicated that, depending on what responses they got regarding the vacant position, they would consider as options hiring an in-house county attorney, a law firm, or a combination of the two.
For comparison purposes, Kisela provided an analysis of the BCC’s expenses from 2006 to 2011 for outside and contract attorneys and those for the Office of the County Attorney.
As of December 2011, the county was currently involved in 30 lawsuits.
According to the figures provided, expenses for outside and contract legal counsel over the five-year period had totaled almost $4 million and legal department expenses had totaled over $1.3 million. The figures revealed that legal department expenses had gradually decreased over a five-year period from $302,224 in the 2007 fiscal year to $240,787 in the 2011 fiscal year. Cost figures reported for outside/contract legal services were: $968,352 for FY 2007; $689,531 for FY 2008; $781,078 for FY 2009; slightly over $1 million for FY 2010; and $416,281 for FY 2011. Kisela noted that, for the most part, fiscal years 2007, 2010, and 2011 were the years the county had an in-house county attorney and fiscal years 2008 and 2009 were the years that a county attorney who was part of a private law firm was utilized.