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Robinson's legal bills add up

| Wednesday, May 8, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Robinson's legal bills so far this year are close to matching 2012's total.

Commissioners had a heated discussion on the topic on Monday. The township spent $122,063.48 on legal bills between January and April, compared to $132,423 all of last year.

Commissioners Samuel Abatta and Ronald Shiwarski claim the township's board is wasting money with frivolous court battles, and by hiring special counsel to handle a legal problem.

Vice Chairman Jesse Forquer, however, maintains that the higher legal fees are tied to problems left unresolved by the township's former long-term solicitor, Downtown-based law firm Goldberg, Kamin & Garvin, which resigned in January.

Abatta, who is chairman of the board of commissioners, also took issue with the board voting 3-2 in April to have its solicitor appeal four zoning variances granted by the zoning hearing board.

“So my point to that is that the Robinson township commissioners' attorney, the Robinson township zoning hearing board attorney — all those funds come from the same pot. It's like you're infighting here, which is totally ludicrous,” Abatta said on Wednesday.

Some commissioners pointed out that $15,694 of the legal costs this year went to Goldberg, Kamin & Garvin and some of that was carry over from last year.

After serving the township for about 30 years, Goldberg, Kamin & Garvin resigned in January after the Robinson board voted 3-2, with Abatta and Shiwarski in the minority, to fire the firm or allow it to resign because of alleged conflicts of interest and unsatisfactory representation.

Goldberg, Kamin & Garvin maintains that it could have resolved some of the township's significant legal issues months or even years ago.

“Certain members of the board of commissioners and certain members of the administrative staff refused to listen and accept our legal advice,” said attorney Robert Garvin, although he said the firm could not discuss specifics.

Forquer disagreed and said that cost overruns on Robinson's legal fees were not unusual. The township's annual budget for legal fees is $100,000.

In January, the township hired an interim solicitor, John Butya, and then hired a permanent solicitor, Plum-based Bruce E. Dice & Associates, in March. In addition, in February it hired lawyer Anthony Giglio of Forest Hills-based Andrews & Price LLC as a special counsel to handle legal issues over The Mall at Robinson's tax increment financing agreement with Robinson.

Forquer pointed to the resolution of some long-term cases, such as last month's settlement after a six-year court battle with Coventry Park LLC, the developer of the Stafford Park residential project. The township had denied variances, building permits and other documents for the Clever Road project. Giglio also handled that settlement.

Abatta, however, said Goldberg, Kamin & Garvin was prepared to finalize the same settlement offer, and that the township's insurance company would have paid for legal fees in the dispute.

Tory N. Parrish is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5662 or tparrish@tribweb.com.

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