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 New Castle Law Firm Resigns

June 4, 2008 - Legal counsel for the town of Knightstown have resigned after being taken to task for filing court documents without first notifying the town council.

In a letter dated May 23, attorney David Copenhaver said his law firm was terminating its contract with the town, effective immediately. The resignation came on the heels of a council meeting two nights earlier, where several concerns were raised about representation provided by Copenhaver and his firm.

At the May 21 meeting, council member Terry Guerin said he was unhappy to learn attorney Joel Harvey, an associate of Copenhaver's, had filed documents with the Indiana Court of Appeals without first discussing the matter with the council. He also said the council had not received copies of what Harvey filed.

In early May, Harvey filed a response to a petition for rehearing the town's insurer filed with the Court of Appeals in mid-April. At issue in the case are attorney fees and court costs the town and insurer were ordered to pay The Banner after losing a landmark public access lawsuit to the newspaper in 2006.

Harvey, who attended the council's May 21 meeting, replied that it is not unusual for him to file court documents without first checking with clients. "As a matter of course in litigation, in every case I've ever handled for anybody, I've typically filed pleadings as we deemed necessary," he said. "Responding to a petition for rehearing is something that we do as of course. I think it's just like responding to any other motion."

Guerin noted that Harvey had mailed the town's response to the Court of Appeals on the last possible date for doing so. Because of an alleged postal error, Harvey had also filed another document a week-and-a-half later explaining an incorrect postmark that made it seem the first document had been mailed late.

"I'm wondering how much additional cost to the town that will result in," Guerin said.

Guerin also questioned why town officials had been told a $75,000 lawsuit settlement with a former town police dispatcher was confidential and could not be disclosed - circumstances that led to The Banner's public access lawsuit. Saying he had recently reviewed the settlement agreement, Guerin said he saw nothing in it that barred the town or its insurer from disclosing the settlement's terms.

"I need an explanation, as I think all of us do, as to what transpired," Guerin said. He said he did not understand why the town's attorneys had not urged release of the settlement from the beginning. Guerin said he also wants to know whether town officials were ever told by their attorneys that the town's insurance would not cover attorney fees and court costs in the event The Banner won its public access lawsuit. He said the insurance company recently told him the town's coverage ended as soon as a settlement was reached with the police dispatcher.

"If we weren't covered by the insurance company from the moment that settlement was agreed to, then I want to know who told the town that we were hanging out there," Guerin said. "Because, if the town understood that, I can't see the town going along with the insurance company on that appeal."

Guerin told Harvey it was unfortunate that he was at the council's meeting that night instead of Copenhaver. "But, on the other hand," he added, "you drafted the last response."

The five-member council had been considering hiring new legal counsel as early as January when Guerin and two other independent candidates elected in landslide victories last fall, Clyde South and Bob Weber, took office. Copenhaver's firm, whose yearly contract expired at the end of 2007, had continued to work for the town under 90-day contract extensions, the second of which was to end in late June.

The town council could have new legal counsel as early as next week. A special meeting to address that issue has been scheduled for 6 p.m. Friday, June 13, in the council chambers at Town Hall, 26 S. Washington St.


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