The town is on pace to exceed its fiscal year 2021 budget of $300,000 in legal fees by tens of thousands of dollars, records show.
Members of the Board of Selectmen discussed the high legal costs during their regular meeting Tuesday, while approving payment of a $40,271 legal bill for March from the town attorney’s firm that brought the total spent since July 1 to $297,967.79, according to a summary invoice. The town pays a $8,500 monthly retainer to Berchem Moses PC.
“So we are definitely going to go over budget this year,” Selectman Nick Williams said during the meeting. “We’ve only got $2,000 remaining in the budget.”
As he has in the past, Williams noted that the single most-expensive legal matter on the bill involves a dispute over a proposed terrace on God’s Acre and ownership of the property.
“We’ve spent over $40,000 on the God’s Acre imbroglio,” Williams said.
The town since July 1 has spent $41,358.50 in legal fees on the God’s Acre matter, according to the bill. The figure includes $5,963 for March, covering 32 individual charges. They include emails and phone calls with First Selectman Kevin Moynihan, Selectman Kathleen Corbet and other “town officials”—in recent past bills, Administrative Officer Tucker Murphy has been listed by name as participating in the discussions.
The town in September hit a roadblock regarding plans for a year-round flagstone terrace at the top of God’s Acre when the Congregational Church of New Canaan asserted that it has legal rights to the property as its own church cemetery. Moynihan has called for the question of who owns God’s Acre to be resolved.
During Tuesday’s meeting, in response to Williams, Moynihan noted that the town’s budget for legal fees has been reduced for the past two years.
Williams said, “But what is the expectation through June 30th, Kevin?”
Moynihan responded, “I don’t try to predict, there were legal fees, Nick, as you know. P&Z is normally the big user but this year P&Z has been somewhat lower.”
Later in the meeting, when Williams noted that there’s only about $2,000 left in the budget for the current fiscal year, Moynihan said, “Is it two or 23?”
When both Corbet and Williams responded $2,000, Moynihan said, “Well, the lawyers have got to be paid, Nick, as you know.”