Commissioners, judge, sheriff spar on legal representation
A division has developed among Limestone County commissioners court about choosing a legal representative for the county. An extended conversation took place at the court’s Jan. 9 meeting but the court members agreed to table the matter until they further interviewed two firms from the three they had originally considered.
Commissioners John McCarver, W.A. “Sonny” Baker and Jerry Allen favor having all legal work done by one firm. McCarver prefers Naman, Howell, Smith and Lee, which he has commended for representing Bell County in providing protection for Nidal Hasan during his trial for the November 2009 Fort Hood shooting. McCarver also said that law firm has helped Bell County in other legal matters.
County Judge Daniel Burkeen favors using different attorneys based on their area of expertise. He also noted that Naman, Howell, Smith and Lee has only represented one county, which is about 10 times larger than Limestone by population (334,941 in 2015), and therefore faces different problems.
Sheriff Dennis Wilson said he doesn’t care who the county uses in other areas but he wants to continue to use George Hyde, the attorney who has been helping him in matters at the Sheriff’s Office. Wilson deals with complicated and potentially explosive issues that are prone to incite lawsuits, so he is concerned with precisely following the law, not only on principle but also to avoid these types of legal problems.
The quest for a new firm to represent the county began last fall. The county had been represented for more than 35 years by Haley and Olsen, but McCarver had expressed dissatisfaction with Haley and Olsen several times over the past few years about incidents in which he believed the firm had not followed the commissioners’ instructions.
Burkeen said that exploring options was a good business practice, so consequently, the county issued a Request for Qualifications to see what other law firms might offer. Three firms responded, George Hyde; Naman, Howell, Smith and Lee; and Allison, Bass and Magee. Haley and Olsen did not respond, so that firm was not considered. Only the first two firms were interviewed, which happened in open session, and at the Jan. 9 meeting, McCarver moved to choose the one he had suggested.
“I think it’s time we go ahead and hire one law firm to represent the county on all their legal services,” he said.
McCarver specified that he wanted to replace what Haley and Olsen had done, and also replace Hyde.
Wilson immediately responded, petitioning the court to be allowed to continue to work with Hyde, who had been recommended by the Texas Association of Counties and also represents the county in lawsuits.
“I have to have a lawyer I can trust, that knows what we do at the Sheriff’s Office,” Wilson said. “Mr. Hyde has been involved with us for about a year. He’s done an outstanding job and he is currently doing stuff for us. I’ve got to have a lawyer I can talk to. What we do is critical when we talk about representing the county and the taxpayers.”
Wilson said he deals with issues every day that have to have the opinion of an attorney. Also, because Hyde is a former peace office, Wilson said Hyde has a better understanding of what the Sheriff’s Office faces.
“I’m not a lawyer,” Wilson told McCarver. “I don’t want to be making decisions that are going to have an ill effect on what we do in this county and cost the taxpayers a lot of money because I don’t have appropriate counsel to give me legal advice.”
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