The Loxahatchee Groves Town Council selected the law firm of Torcivia, Donlon, Goddeau & Ansay as its interim legal representatives on Tuesday, replacing longtime Town Attorney Michael Cirullo of the firm Goren, Cherof, Doody & Ezrol.
Six firms applied for the position, the others being Brandenburg & Associates; Caldwell, Pacetti, Edwards, Schoech & Viator; the Lohman Law Group; Nason, Yeager, Gerson, Harris & Fumero; and Weiss, Serota, Helfman, Cole & Bierman.
Attorney Brian Shutt will serve as the town’s general counsel, attending all town meeting and other relevant meetings. Shutt was not at the interview, where attorney Christy Goddeau represented the firm, accompanied by human resources attorneys Lara Donlon and Matthew Ransdell.
Shutt joined Torcevia, Donlon, Goddeau & Ansay after nearly 20 years with the City of Delray Beach — the first 15 years as an assistant city attorney and the remainder of his tenure as city attorney. During this time, he provided advice, counsel and representation on behalf of the city on a wide range of issues, claims and disputes. He also represented many of the city’s volunteer boards. Shutt was also responsible for reviewing all agenda items for legal sufficiency, as well as acting as counsel for the city commission.
Goddeau said her firm of eight attorneys takes a team approach representing local governments to provide efficient, timely and cost-effective legal services.
“What I mean by a team approach is that in my acting as lead attorney for a municipal client, they may ask me a question about labor law or employment law that I don’t know right off, so I can confer with Lara [Donlon] on that issue and get back to that client in a timely manner,” Goddeau said.
She added that all the firm’s attorneys have more than 20 years’ experience each in local government.
“If there happens to be a rodeo I haven’t been on yet, I can call the other local government attorneys and say, ‘Have you heard of this issue before?’ and get back to my client,” she said.
For labor and employment law matters, the firm often turns to attorneys Ransdell and Donlon for their expertise. Donlon has been hired to represent other entities, including the Indian Trail Improvement District and the Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District before it became dependent to the town.
“Brian is proposed as our lead attorney in our letter of interest to the town,” Goddeau said. “Brian joined our team in 2014, and he has been representing our local government clients since that time.”
She said one of the reasons her firm selected Shutt as the town’s lead attorney was that he would be free on Tuesdays when the town has its council meetings.
Councilwoman Phillis Maniglia asked about the firm’s history working with the now-dependent Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District. Donlon said she had been the human resources attorney dealing primarily with the hiring and dismissal of district administrators.
“One was outgoing, and one was incoming,” Donlon said. “I provided advice with respect to those contracts as employee issues came up from time to time with the special district. It was fairly limited though. It was not a huge organization, so there weren’t too many issues that arose.”
Donlon said that Caldwell, Pacetti, Edwards, Schoech & Viator was the legal firm representing the LGWCD district at the time. She was hired by that firm for employment law purposes. “I work very closely with a number of different local governments as employment counsel, along with Matt Ransdell,” Donlon said.
Goddeau said her firm is legal counsel for numerous local governments, with a specialty in employment law.
“Labor law and employment law is getting so specialized that most of the time, I will defer to Matt and Lara on issues because you start getting into a lot of complex issues, such as drafting personnel policies, they’ve done many,” she said. “They work closely with local government entities to bring their personnel policies up to a desirable standard.”
Councilman Dave DeMarois asked about possible double billing for attorney consultations, and Goddeau said that would not happen, that only one attorney would be billing for consultations between attorneys, explaining that as soon as an issue is passed on to another attorney, the general attorney would no longer bill.
DeMarois also asked about the firm’s connections in Tallahassee, and Goddeau said that the firm’s founder, Glen Torcivia, often goes up on Palm Beach County Days and other special trips to get funding for grants and other types of funding.
“We’ve been successful with the City of Belle Glade to get a lot of road projects funded through the state,” Goddeau said. “Glen, who has been representing municipalities in Palm Beach County for more than 30 years, has a lot of connections up there.”
Councilwoman Laura Danowski asked about the resolution of disagreements between the town and former town management firm Underwood Management Services Group over disputed vacation time for Underwood.
“There is not a doubt that we are going to have to have some type of legal counsel in addressing former management’s vacation request,” Danowski said, asking Goddeau if she would approach it through negotiation or litigation.
Goddeau said her firm sets out to understand both sides of the argument and the risks of each side.
“Obviously, cost is a factor,” Goddeau said. “I don’t just want the attorneys to get rich off of your issues. I want to provide you with the best legal advice, and maybe that legal advice is to settle it, and you’re not necessarily happy with that decision, but because of the cost that you will incur, that may be the best decision for the town.”
Goddeau pointed out that the City of Lake Worth Beach, of which she is the lead attorney, had a long backlog of litigation.
“What we did is we went in and looked at each case and did a risk assessment to see the legal arguments for this case and against this case and what would likely happen going into litigation,” she said.
Goddeau stressed that, ultimately, the council makes the final decision whether to litigate or settle.
Danowski also asked whether it was cost effective to go after code violators who go on operating the way they do and pay their fines as a cost of doing business.
Goddeau said it depended on the violator, whether it has assets worth going after or whether they are “judgment proof,” meaning that they don’t really have any assets that the town can go after.
“They may have something that they are trying to hide that you can go after,” Goddeau said. “It’s figuring out how judgment proof they are.”
After more discussion and public input, Maniglia made a motion to select Torcivia, Donlon, Goddeau & Ansay as interim attorney, which carried 5-0. Town Manager Jamie Titcomb said a service agreement would be ready for council approval on June 4.