Franklin Co. Commission Debates County Attorney Fees

By MJ Kneiser, WLHR Radio, Lavonia

Franklin County Commissioners are at odds over whether to reduce the fee paid to the county attorney.

At the commission’s work session Tuesday night, Franklin County Commission Chair Thomas Bridges said he believes the county is paying attorney Bubba Samuels too much for his services.

“In talking to county commissioners and chair people across the state, they looked at me like I was strange when I told them we have a $10,000 retainer fee,” Bridges said. “In fact, most told me they either had no retainer fee or just a small retainer fee of no more than $3,000.”

Franklin County currently pays Samuels a $10,000 a month retainer, under a contract agreement passed by the board in January.

Anything over the $10,000, Samuels bills at $120 an hour.

Bridges said in 2012, Franklin County paid Samuels $245,431.91in legal fees.

He also said he has asked Samuels for an itemized list on his monthly statement of how that retainer is used.

Bridges then proposed a drastic reduction in the amount the county pays Samuels every month.

“I would like to see us negotiate with our attorney and get our retainer fee down,” Bridges told the board. “Also, I would like to see us having information in the bill when it comes each month on how we’re using our attorney and where the taxpayers’ money is going.”

Franklin County Commissioners David Strickland and Robert Franklin both noted, however, that a retainer does not require an itemized list of activities and that most attorneys charge much more an hour than Samuels.

Meanwhile, Commissioner Clint Harper said Samuels has provided valuable legal counsel to FranklinCounty and is worth every penny the county pays him.

“He won this county a $16-million lawsuit last year that we had going with the  SPLOST,” Harper continued. “I don’t know of any case in recent years that he has lost, which in the last couple of years has been quite a handful that has gone into litigation about.”

Harper said it was unfair to Samuels to suggest that Samuels is overcharging.

“I think it’s very unfair to just throw out some numbers just to see if we can get it (legal fees) down when the quality is second to none,” he said. “And the way this county is going, we better have a good lawyer because our track record is not that good when it comes to getting ourselves involved in litigation.”

Harper also noted that Samuels had already agreed to itemize his monthly statements, but Bridges says he had not yet an itemized statement.

No decision was made Tuesday night and the Franklin County Commission plans to take up the matter again at its regular meeting next week.