Published Date Written by Michael KitchLACONIA — The confrontation between the Belknap County Convention and the Belknap County Commission is playing itself out in Belknap County Superior Court where two attorneys — Paul Fitzgerald and Wescott, Millham and Dyer and Laura Spector-Morgan of the Mitchell Municipal Group — have filed to represent the convention against the suit brought by Tom Tardif, charging it violated the Right-to-Know Law by electing its current officers by secret ballot.
Shortly after the suit was filed, the convention sought permission from the commissioners, in whom state law vests the authority to engage and direct legal counsel representing the county, to hire its own attorney. Citing the statute, the commission refused the request but retained Fitzgerald to defend the convention.
However, Rep. Richard Burchell (R-Gilmanton) applied to the situation a law bearing on the defense and indemnification of county officials sued while acting within the scope of their official duties. It provides that either the county attorney, who works at the direction of the New Hampshire Attorney General and the county commission, or, with the consent of the commission, outside counsel shall provide their defense. The law further provides that officials denied representation by the commissioners may appeal to the convention.
Overlooking the likelihood that the statute indemnifies individuals and ignoring the fact that the convention did not deny the convention legal counsel, the convention proceeded to appeal the commission's decision to itself and to authorize its chairman, Rep. Colette Worsman (R-Meredith), to engage the Mitchell Municipal Group. Last week, Spector-Morgan filed with the court on behalf of the convention.
However, the authority to expend county funds rests with the commission, not the convention. Commissioner Ed Philpot said yesterday "if the Mitchell Group presents us with an invoice, we would not pay it, because we did not hire the attorney."
He went on to suggest that to spare taxpayers the cost of unnecessary litigation, the commission may ask the court remove Spector-Morgan from the suit.