Thursday, August 22, 2013
Ind. Gov't. - "Lake Co. Commissioners discuss frustration with attorney costs"
Carrie Napoleon reports in the Gary Post-Tribune:
CROWN POINT — A request for an additional $80,000 for attorney’s services in 2013 for the Lake County Sheriff’s Department turned into a call to find ways to cut spending on criminal justice.
The request riled commissioners but still gained approval 2-1.
Lake County Commissioner Micheal Repay, D-Hammond, was the lone vote against the request by Sheriff John Buncich to pay Attorney John Bushemi and the firm of Burke, Costanza & Carberry LLP additional funds to continue representing the department through the end of the year.
Bushemi said the $208,000 in the contract approved Jan. 2 has been spent defending the sheriff’s department in more than 45 pending lawsuits. So far his legal team has gotten 13 of those suits dismissed. His services are also used to represent the sheriff’s department in its settlement agreement with the Department of Justice concerning conditions at the jail under former Sheriff Roy Dominguez. Then there are the day-to-day issues that require the sheriff to consult with an attorney.
Repay and Commissioner Gerry Scheub, D-Crown Point, both said spending on criminal justice must be cut.
Scheub said he expects to see consultant costs shrink as the sheriff meets compliance with the DOJ mandate and control of the jail shifts back to the county.
“Criminal justice is 88 percent of our budget. That’s criminal,” Scheub said.
He said officials may need to consider privatizing the jail to get the county out from under the liability of lawsuits filed by inmates.
“People are frustrated. We’re frustrated. The county council is frustrated,” Scheub said.
Buncich said the amount of issues requiring the attorney’s assistance are overwhelming. Freedom of Information requests from inmates and a constant barrage of petty lawsuits, most of which are ultimately dismissed without liability to the county, occur almost daily.
“I’m frustrated too,” Buncich said.
Repay said county officials have attorneys on staff at a set rate to handle suits not covered under the approved amount of the contract and anything outside the scope of the original contract should be sent there, not to other attorneys at Bushemi’s firm.
“That’s where the cost overruns come in,” Repay said.
Commission President Roosevelt Allen Jr., D-Gary, said he would like to see how much in settlement payouts and plaintiff legal fees the county is saving by fighting lawsuits, and compare those savings to the cost of Bushemi’s contract.
Posted by Marcia Oddi on August 22, 2013 02:07 PM
Posted to Indiana Government