Letter: Where Is The Town’s Legal Agreement With KP Law?

Photo: Blue Diamond Gallery. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

“[T]he Town does not have a retainer agreement with KP Law.” 

That’s what Amherst Town Manager Paul Bockelman wrote recently in response to a public record request of mine for a copy of the town’s “Retainer Agreement, or whatever it might be called,” with KP Law, P.C., of Boston.

KP Law has been the town’s only law firm since at least 2011. How can the town not have a “Retainer Agreement, or whatever it might be called,” with KP Law? 

KP Law sends monthly invoices to the town. Public record requests have yielded copies of KP Law’s invoices: $20,233.41 for May 2021, and $12,107.00 for June 2021. The town evidently pays on these invoices and it must use taxpayer funds to do so but by what authority?

KP Law attorneys sign the briefs and speak at oral argument for the town in the voting rights lawsuit, Allen, et al. v. Board of Registrars of the Town of Amherst. This is pending in Superior Court in Northampton. Presumably, KP Law attorneys have reason to believe that the town has authorized them to represent it. But — by what authority?

Something in writing must authorize KP Law to tell the court that it represents the town, and must authorize the town to pay KP Law tens of thousands of dollars for doing so. Any such document can only be a public record. It cannot be privileged. So on Thursday, September 3, 2021, I filed an appeal to the Secretary of the Commonwealth for the town manager’s failure to produce it.

This points up yet again a fundamental flaw in the town’s new charter. The legislative and executive powers inhere in a single body: town council. It hires and can fire the town manager.  Only a town council majority can hold the manager accountable for this evident flouting of the public records law, and for his undemocratic lack of transparency. We voters are left either to persuade the councilors, or else to vote them out this November. 

What is in Amherst’s evident “Retainer Agreement, or whatever it might be called” with KP Law, that the town manager went to this length to prevent the public from seeing? If the appeal succeeds, it will be most intriguing to see. 

Sarah McKee

Sarah McKee has lived in Amherst for more than 20 years. She is a former President of the Jones Library Trustees, and is a member of the D.C. Bar.

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5 thoughts on “Letter: Where Is The Town’s Legal Agreement With KP Law?

  1. Update: Secretary of the Commonwealth Bill Galvin’s office was fast! Exactly 24 hours and 1 minute after I pressed “Send” on my emailed appeal under the Public Records Law, an attorney for the Public Records Division pressed “Send” on an email to Town Clerk Susan Audette. It says:

    “This office has received an appeal relating to your entity’s response to a request for public records. Attached are further details concerning this appeal. If you are able to provide further information or have any questions relating to this matter, please contact the Public Records Division at pre@sec.state.ma.us or 617-727-2832.

    Given that the Supervisor of Records must issue a determination within ten business days of receipt of the appeal petition, please provide any additional information to this office as soon as possible.”

    To be continued, one trusts!

  2. In response to a similar records request I made about two years ago, I received copies of a response from KP Law to a Request For Proposal for legal services in February 2007, and a letter from the town manager at the time, Larry Shaffer, agreeing to the fixed fee proposal of $40,000 annually, and an hourly rate of $155.
    I was told there had been no agreement since 2007.
    If I recall correctly, you can see in budget documents that the town budgets around $110,000 annually for legal services.

  3. Thanks, Toni! When making this request, I’d not known about yours. That yours, but not the current request, yielded documents in response is curious.

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