Sunday, July 8, 2012

Money to pay lawyers lacking

Luzerne County did not fund the line item for Children and Youth cases' representation

Thirteen attorneys who represented parents in Children and Youth cases are owed nearly $106,000 in legal fees dating back to last June, but it remains unclear where the county will get the money to pay them.

Mike Shucosky, deputy court administrator, said he delivered a memorandum to the county Friday that details the amount that’s owed to each attorney.

The county budget does not have a line item in place to pay the fees, however.

"The line item that was created to pay the bills in the past was not funded this year," Shucosky said. "It's an obligation of the county. The work was performed. It will be up to the county to decide how to make the payments."

Shucosky said the attorneys, who were paid $55 per hour, are owed a combined total of $105,747. Most of the bills are for work that was performed in 2012, but there were some leftover bills dating back to June 2011.

County Manager Robert Lawton did not return phone messages Thursday or Friday seeking comment on where the county will get the money to pay the bills, or when they might be paid. Vic Mazziotti, budget and finance director, said on Friday he had not yet met with other county officials to discuss the matter, but expects to do so soon.

The attorneys, who include Robert Davison of Kingston, have been representing parents throughout this year, even though none of them have received any payment to date.

Davison, who estimated he's owed roughly $20,000, said he continued to do the work as a public service, believing he would eventually be paid.

"It's important that parents, regardless of the merits of their case, be given legal counsel," Davison said.

He said he's pleased to see the county has finally taken action to address the bills.

"I don't think any of the lawyers who worked the past seven months did so with the assumption they would not get paid," he said.

The manner in which the attorneys are paid has been criticized after a Times Leader investigation revealed one of the attorneys, Angela Stevens, had double billed the county nearly $60,000, most of which was for bill preparation.

Stevens has acknowledged she made billing errors, but has maintained the errors were an honest mistake. She voluntarily relinquished roughly $20,000 that was owed to her, after the double billing was accounted for, and is not among the attorneys who is seeking payment.

The county has since altered its policy to pay a flat rate.

In June the county awarded contracts to the Sebelin Law Offices of Lehighton and attorneys Michael Shotto and Tony Ross, both of Wilkes-Barre. They each will be paid a flat rate of $25,000 to represent parents through the end of this year.

By Terrie Morgan-Besecker,, 570-829-7179, Twitter: @TLTerrieMorgan

Source: The Wilkes Barre Times-Leader

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