Sullivan County Democrat
O n l i n e  E d i t i o n National Award-winning, Family-run Newspaper
  NEWS ARCHIVES Established 1891 Callicoon, New York  
home  |  archives

Monticello to replace its attorneys

By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO — May 23, 2008 — Though the exact reasons remain a point of debate, Monticello’s two village attorneys have resigned.
Effective May 31, Will Frank and Karen Alt of the Greenwald Law Offices will no longer serve as village attorney and deputy village attorney, respectively.
They had only been on the job since being appointed by Mayor Gordon Jenkins and the board last month.
No mention of the resignations was made at Monday’s village board meeting, and when contacted this week, both Frank and Alt declined to comment.
“The reasons are something I don’t think [is] appropriate for me to discuss publicly,” Frank remarked, calling it a matter of “attorney-client discussions.”
The resignation letter Frank sent to Mayor Jenkins provided just a bit more detail.
“The reason that we are resigning is due to a misunderstanding between our respective offices of the nature and scope of services to be provided by our firm to the village,” wrote Frank on May 12. “In addition, certain budgetary constraints of the village make it impractical for this office to represent the village by virtue of said misunderstanding.”
The duo were being paid just over $42,400 for their first year of service, said Village Manager John Barbarite, via a promise made by Gary Greenwald to provide two attorneys for what Monticello was paying former Village Attorney Danielle Jose.
Barbarite said the agreement specified that Frank and Alt would track their workloads for a year, then renegotiate their salaries, if necessary.
But according to Barbarite, the amount of work far exceeded what Frank and Alt were willing to do for the price being paid.
“After this first month, they submitted a bill for what the charges would be [in billable hours], and it was significant,” Barbarite explained.
The total was $7,164.07, but the agreement specified they would be paid only about $3,500 a month.
Barbarite said the firm asked for the pair’s salaries to be increased by a total of $7,500 for the first year, based upon former Deputy Attorney Tim Havas’ salary.
Jenkins and Barbarite told them they couldn’t do that with the current budget, so Frank and Alt tendered their resignations, effective at the end of this month.
Thus, the mayor will have to recommend a new firm be appointed, subject to board approval.
“Fortunately it happened early,” remarked Barbarite. “It’s going to be a fairly seamless thing.”
What will have to be addressed, in his mind, is board members’ access to the village’s attorneys.
According to Barbarite and Jenkins, newly elected board member Carmen Rue contributed to the unexpectedly high legal fees because of the amount of e-mails she sent to Frank and Alt.
“Normally trustees don’t e-mail the village attorney for opinions,” Barbarite explained. “They’re not your personal attorney.”
“Mr. Frank routinely communicated with the entire village board (with the exception of one trustee who does not have Internet access) by e-mail,” replied Rue. “I replied to several of his messages and also initiated some myself – copying the full board, careful to include even the one trustee who does not have Internet access.
“Mr. Barbarite also sent numerous e-mails to Mr. Frank, and Mr. Frank responded. The former attorney also relied on e-mail,” she continued.
Frank’s resignation letter made no mention of Rue.
However, the billable hours list provided to the village by Frank and Alt confirmed that both Barbarite and Rue separately spoke, met and corresponded with the attorneys at least eight times each – though most of the entries for Rue and a few for Barbarite listed an unspecified amount of multiple e-mails.
Save for Village Clerk Edith Schop, few other village officials routinely utilized the attorneys outside of board meetings.
Rue lamented that she is often “kept in the dark” by village leaders – which is why she initially voted against Frank and Alt’s appointment. Since that time, she said she “came to respect and trust” Frank and regretted their departure.
But she blamed the matter on Jenkins and Barbarite, saying the two attorneys were appointed without a written agreement, without being placed on the village’s payroll and without an understanding of how they would bill the village.
Rue concluded, “I believe Mr. Barbarite, as a village employee, may have violated attorney-client privilege by leveling these false accusations against me – a serious ethical breach.”
Mayor Jenkins agreed with Barbarite’s belief that as many as 50 emails in a month from Rue to the attorneys affected the situation, but he confirmed the situation mostly was due to a “misunderstanding on their [the attorneys] part.”
“It was a misunderstanding with money issues. There were no hard feelings,” he remarked.
Jenkins has not yet made a decision on who to recommend for the vacancies, but he said he expects to have someone in place by June.
What the new attorneys will be paid until the next fiscal year starts in July is uncertain, but Barbarite said the tentative 2008-2009 village budget has provided $40,000 annually for the village attorney and $10,000 for the deputy village attorney.

top of page  |  home  |  archives