Council Approves Contract For Municipal City Attorney, Defers Hiring Prosecutor

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A contract for the Giamarco, Mullins and Horton law firm to serve as City Attorney for municipal legal counsel was approved unanimously by the East Lansing City Council on Tuesday evening. 

But as quickly as Council voted to bring on GMH as new counsel to advise them in meetings, draft ordinances, represent the City of East Lansing in future litigation, and the like, they moved to defer action on hiring a new prosecutor until March 8. A process that began in August 2021 will now enter into a seventh month after interviews, reference checks, and finally a decision to enter negotiations with GMH and Robert Easterly to be municipal legal advisors and prosecutor, respectively. 

A proposed agreement with Robert Easterly to continue as the City’s prosecutor – albeit now on his own instead of under Foster Swift – in the 54B District Court was not up to snuff for Council member George Brookover — an attorney by trade — and there was a discrepancy between the proposed hourly rate in the contract presented to Council and what City Manager George Lahanas said had been verbally agreed to. 

Brookover was concerned that the proposed agreement between Easterly and the City for prosecution services was incomplete, lacking certain clauses that pertain to things like liability insurance. He found the contract unclear about what the City might potentially be paying Easterly — the options in the contract presented to Council on Tuesday were an annual fee of $360,000, paid monthly, or being billed hourly at $145 an hour with a $380,000 annual cap. 

Council member Lisa Babcock — who has been Easterly’s most vocal supporter in the hiring process — had moved to approve the contract and pay the flat annual rate of $360,000. Mayor Ron Bacon asked Lahanas for clarification since the proposed contract called for Council to consider awarding a contract with either the flat annual rate or an hourly rate of $145 an hour.

Eventually, it became apparent that the $145 per-hour rate was, according to Lahanas, an error. Lahanas told Council repeatedly that in negotiations he and Easterly had verbally agreed to a $135 hourly rate, to match the rate that Council will be paying GMH.

Babcock, also an attorney, wanted Lahanas to clarify that the hourly rate would, indeed, be $135 and to come back with a proposed contract that wasn’t erroneous. She insisted that Easterly was one to do his due diligence, and since the hourly rate in the contract in front of her said $145, she wanted clarity from Easterly, rather than approving a contract on Lahanas’ word that the City would actually pay $135 an hour.

Brookover moved to defer action on the item until Council meets on March 8, where the proposed agreement will presumably be beefed up and clear on the hourly rates. That motion was approved unanimously.

Despite deferring action on the proposed contract with Easterly until issues are ironed out, Easterly will continue to serve as the City’s prosecutor. 

Easterly is serving in that role for the Foster Swift firm, the now outgoing City Attorney, and will presumably continue until the City has approved a contract with another lawyer — him, in this case.

GMH will shortly take over as the City’s municipal legal advisors, but Foster Swift will finish out certain litigation that they’re already doing for the City. 

The now-approved contract between the City and GMH sets out that the City will pay $135 an hour for legal services and there is no cost cap.

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