Schenectady County

Legal fees spur Princetown board to hire new attorney

Members of the Town Board hired Michael Cuevas to serve out the year as their legal counsel during t

Princetown will have a face familiar in Schenectady politics serving as the town attorney.

Members of the Town Board hired Michael Cuevas to serve out the year as their legal counsel during their meeting last week. Cuevas, the city Republican Committee chairman and the town attorney for Glenville, will also represent Princetown’s land-use boards.

Cuevas replaces the Albany-based firm of Whiteman, Osterman and Hanna, which served the town for more than five years. Supervisor Michael Joyce said the move is aimed at saving the town money by curbing its ballooning legal fees.

“Financially, I think it’s a great move,” he said Tuesday.

Joyce said the town’s previous law firm charged by the hour at a rate that varied according to the attorney lending legal advice. He said lower-level attorneys in the firm would cost roughly $165 per hour, while partners could cost upward of $275 per hour.

In contrast, Cuevas will represent the town for a flat rate of $3,000 per month. His contract with the town runs through December, Joyce said.

Over the past two years, Princetown has budgeted $40,000 for its town attorney. The town’s land-use boards also include smaller line-items for attorney fees, according to the budget.

Legal fees became a point of contention last year when then town Republican Committee Chairman Norm Miller accused former Supervisor Melanie Whiteley of overspending the town attorney line item. He blamed the lion’s share of the fees on the town having to wage a costly prosecution of Princetown Justice Michelle Van Woeart, who was cited violating Princetown’s leash laws in 2010.

Whiteley acknowledged the attorney fees had increased, but said the funds to pay for them were transferred legitimately from other areas of the budget designated to pay for legal advice. She blamed Miller’s ire on a political vendetta he was exacting on her after she didn’t select him as her deputy supervisor.

Todd Mathes of Whiteman, Osterman and Hanna was the regular counsel for Princetown, but he left the law firm abruptly last year.

“This will ultimately save us on legal fees,” Joyce said.

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