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Port Authority Keeps Legal Counsel After Weighing Options


PORT MANATEE -- Lewis, Longman & Walker (LL&W) is here to stay, at least for another year or two. The law firm that has taken Manatee County through some of its most challenging times, got a vote of confidence from Manatee Port Authority Board members. Last year's budget crunch triggered efforts to bring some port services "in house," and have the county modify its team of attorneys for the job, but commissioners say it's hard to gauge expenses for the unexpected, and decided that in any case, it is better to be prepared with a full service firm.

It was last October when Port Authority members authorized Manatee county's chief attorney, Micky Palmer, to prepare an estimate of the cost of bringing port legal services in house, under the oversight of the county, instead of farming services out to a private firm. Palmer returned Thursday with the proposal. 

Palmer's proposition included the hiring of one more attorney to the county's team as well as an assistant. Their proposed salaries reflected what is currently the average compensation of all of those in the similar position at the county. That amount came to an annual cost of $230,455.00, not including items that are not seen as general services. Additional to general services are: special/professional testimonies, outside counsel and other unpredicted expenses. 

LL&W came to the meeting ready to convince the board to keep them as counsel. Their presentation clearly demonstrated that they had the larger staff, more specialized attorneys, were better familiarized with port issues, and they announced they would reduce cost of some of their services. 

One of the major differences between the two proposals was that county staff could not be sued by the county if a claim of malpractice occurred, while that had always been an option with LL&W. The fear of error was ultimately greater in house. If there is a penalty for mistakes, commissioners saw recourse options as an additional blanket of security they didn't want to give up. 

Commissioner DiSabatino said, "So many plus and minuses, and both of the services offered are excellent, but the we could sue you, is not an option with the county," DiSabatino also noted that Port Director Carlos Buqueras has a point person with LL&W, who is there 24/7. With the county, they would have to call Mr. Palmer, and then he would have to contact the one he has on the case."  

Commissioner Gallen said, when referring to the cost that in-house might save, "It would be foolish to go against the advice of counsel when expert advice (additional cost) is suggested." Gallen said the goal is to get the best representation, which concludes with the best results, and that it is hard to predict what's around the corner in any case.

All commissioners agreed that both proposals were backed by exceptional talent and that it wasn't anything personal in their decision. The decision to stay with LL&W by a unanimous vote. 

LL&W will present Director Buqueras with the contract, and Buqueras will present it to the board for final approval at the next Port Authority meeting.


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