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Sat May 1, 2021, 06:48 AM

Legal limbo: St. Louis County Council move leaves county scrambling to defend itself in several high

Legal limbo: St. Louis County Council move leaves county scrambling to defend itself in several high-profile lawsuits

CLAYTON — A long-running fight on the St. Louis County Council over the hiring of outside law firms came to a head this week, potentially upending the county’s legal defense in several high-profile lawsuits alleging civil rights and employment discrimination.

Citing the crush of pending litigation, County Counselor Beth Orwick sought to renew contracts with four law firms to represent the county for terms of one year and a maximum of $400 an hour. Orwick said she needs the legal help: Her office employs 21 attorneys — a number smaller than that of the city of St. Louis and other large jurisdictions — and lacks the staffing and expertise necessary to handle the cases.

But on Tuesday, a council majority — Chair Rita Heard Days, D-1st District; Councilwoman Shalonda Webb, D-4th District; Councilman Tim Fitch, R-3rd District; and Councilman Mark Harder, R-7th District — rejected the request, insisting the council only approve the hires if it can set a final cap on the expenses. The group also called on the county to rebid the contracts in search of minority- or women-owned firms.

The minority — Councilman Ernie Trakas, R-6th District; Councilwoman Kelli Dunaway, D-2nd District; and Councilwoman Lisa Clancy, D-5th District — supported Orwick’s request, warning a delay over upfront costs would put the county at risk of losing cases that could cost end up costing taxpayers millions in damages. The requirements the majority sought were discussed in closed-door meetings and found to be unreasonable, they said, preventing the county from the flexibility it needs to mount an adequate legal defense.

Read more: https://www.stltoday.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/legal-limbo-st-louis-county-council-move-leaves-county-scrambling-to-defend-itself-in-several/article_f94b8e0b-7af8-53aa-b2b7-5bcdd1736495.html

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