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Rising legal fees spark debate
FB DCN Government County

At their Oct. 17 work session, the Board of Commissioners discussed the future of the county’s legal representation in the face of rapidly increasing legal fees.

The county’s contract with law firm Jarrard & Davis expires Dec. 31. Dawson County Purchasing Manager Melissa Hawk presented three options for procuring legal services for 2020.

The first option presented was to hire an in-house lawyer to handle the county’s legal responsibilities.

In 2017, the county hired Monroe Lynn Frey to act as the county’s in-house attorney. By the end of 2018, Frey had retired, citing deteriorating health as the cause. He left a large caseload of backlog behind.

The second option the commissioners heard was to put the county’s legal service out for a formal request for proposal. This process would allow firms to bid on performing legal services, and would allow the county to pick a winner from those bids based on cost effectiveness and suitability to the job.

However, that process could take months, and would stretch dangerously close to the deadline of having an option in place by the end of the year.

The third option that was presented was to continue using Jarrard & Davis as the county’s legal counsel. The firm is known for representing counties and municipal governments across Georgia. According to their website, they currently represent Forsyth County, Barrow County, Cherokee County, Jackson County, Greene County, Newton County, the Cherokee County Airport Authority, and the City of Milton.

At the meeting, Commissioners addressed the fact that the county was well on the way to spending over $500,000 on legal fees with Jarrard & Davis this year. The original 2019 budget allowed for $160,413.

“(Working with Jarrard & Davis) has been first class,” said District 4 Commissioner Julie Nix. “And you pay for first class. . . . I’ve had a couple citizens say to me they’re troubled by it (the cost of legal fees) too.”

Representatives from Jarrard & Davis have approached the county with an offer to cap the general expenses at $250,000, excluding certain services like litigation and out-of-pocket expenses.

“But really, more than $250,000 will be spent,” commented District 1 Commissioner Sharon Fausett.

There’s a lot of need,” explained Angela Davis of Jarrard & Davis. “So I only work when somebody calls me and asks me to do something, so that budget can be within your control to do more things without me. We’ve set in place some processes and improved some ordinances and some things that will allow things to run more smoothly. We’ve talked about the backlog. I mean I would like to think that we almost did two years of work in a year.”

“It’s an effort on our part to try to put some constraints and forecastability on the costs, but still be reasonable to what I think your needs are,” added Davis.

In 2016, the county spent $180,316 on legal fees.