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Davison Co. Commission reviews $800K in law firm contracts

A pair of expiring contracts that paid two local law firms $550,000 and $208,000, respectively, over a four-year span will be considered at the Davison County commissioners’ next meeting.

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At a regular weekly meeting Tuesday at the Davison County Courthouse in Mitchell, State’s Attorney Jim Miskimins explained the county’s indigent defender contracts with two Mitchell-based law firms will expire at the end of the year. The two contracts total nearly $800,000.

On Jan. 1, 2010, the county formed agreements with the Tinan, Smith and Bucher law firm as its public primary defender and with Stiles & Papendick law firm as its supplemental defender for defendants who need a court-appointed attorney. The commissioners will meet at 9 a.m. Tuesday and, at about 10:30, will go into an executive session — a closed-door meeting — for discussion on the matter.

The commissioners will meet with representatives from both firms.

Miskimins said he suggests the commissioners have an executive session to discuss whether they want to renew their contract with their current defenders or seek new firms. State law allows executive sessions for conferring with attorneys about contractual matters, and for contract negotiations and preparations for contract negotiations.

“Under South Dakota law, you have the ability to choose whether you open it up to bidding or proposals from outside firms, or if you choose to agree to enter into negotiations with these firms with new agreements,” Miskimins told the commissioners. “I think it’s appropriate that those meetings are held privately, because in the event those meetings are not fruitful — and there’s no agreement between the board and those firms — it’s not fair that their proposals are broadcast to other potential firms that are interested in fulfilling those contractual responsibilities for the county.”

E. Steeves Smith — a partner at Tinan, Smith and Bucher — was at Tuesday’s meeting and said the firm and the county have worked together since 1990. Tinan, Smith and Bucher’s most recent contract with the county was agreed upon Aug. 25, 2009. By the end of the contract, the firm will have been paid a base fee of $530,000 total for all four years. Through September of this year, Tinan, Smith and Bucher has been paid $515,286.81 total in the past four years from the county, according to the county auditor’s office. That amount includes the base pay and reimbursements for additional out-ofpocket expenses while representing a person in need. The firm is due at least $35,000 total, or $11,666.67 monthly, for the final three months of 2013, which would bring the total to $550,286.81.

Stiles & Papendick’s contract was also agreed upon on Aug. 25, 2009, and will have paid the firm $208,000 in base fees over four years. There have been no additional expenses paid to Stiles & Papendick.

Davison County Auditor Susan Kiepke said she’s already scheduled an executive session for discussing the public defender contracts at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday. The meeting will be held at the courthouse.

Miskimins said after the executive session is held, if an agreement in principal is made, action can be taken publicly.

“Negotiate at arm’s length to see if there’s a meeting of the minds,” Miskimins said. “If you come to that meeting of the minds, other than preparing a written agreement, announcing it and taking action on it in your meetings, no further action will be necessary.

“If you are unable to come to that meeting of the minds, then you may choose to request proposals from those that are interested.”

Gerald Weiss, who has served on the Davison County Commission since 2007, has been pleased with the two law firms that have represented the county for the past four years.

“It seems like every time we have a problem, they’re ready to give us a hand,” Weiss said.

But Weiss wasn’t ready to commit to saying he is already in favor of renewing the agreements.

“For me, it’s a wait and see,” he said. “You never know what will come up.”

Medical care for the poor

Welfare Director Dawn Grissom told the commissioners this year’s potential liability for the county’s welfare bills have totaled $137,840.82 through September on 48 requests.

“We’re going to get more requests between October and December and will have more potential liability to be paid for,” Grissom said. “The fourth-quarter report will be out in the first week of January.”

The potential liability is the amount the county is accountable for when a request for payment is made by a hospital, and an individual applies for county assistance and is accepted by the county.

Although the actual hospital charges for the 48 requests are $1,081,446.25, Grissom explained the hospitals give the county a discounted price. The county also submits the charges to the state Division of Medical Services in Pierre to see if the person filing the request is eligible for Medicaid to earn assistance in medical care bills.

Road conditions

During a public input session, Dawn Hartman and Orville Stevenson expressed frustration over poor road conditions on a two-mile stretch west of Mitchell and south of the interstate.

The gravel road, on 255th Street between 401st and 403rd avenues, has been traveled often recently by Knife River Midwest construction company, of Sioux City, Iowa, which is the prime contractor for reconstruction of Interstate 90 between mile markers 319 and 334.

“Go out with a car and try and drive that,” Orville said. “It’s terrible. You have to use four-wheel drive. We have to do something soon; otherwise, it’s going to be too late.”

Commissioner John Claggett told Hartman and Stevenson that the commissioners would be meeting with Highway Department Superintendent Rusty Weinberg later that morning and would tell him of their concerns.

Other business

In other items Tuesday, the commissioners:

• Signed a letter that was passed in ordinance form at the Oct. 1 meeting that encourages the governor’s office to secure federal funding in lieu of property taxes on Indian trust lands, supporting a request from a Bennett County commissioner that originated at a recent meeting in Spearfish earlier this year.

• Toured the Highway Department grounds with Superintendent Rusty Weinberg.