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LEGISLATORS CRITICIZE AMOUNT SPENT ON LEGAL EXPENSES

Two Democratic Chautauqua County legislators Thursday accused Republican County Executive Andrew Goodell of running government by "litigation rather than negotiation."

Jane Fagerstrom, D-Jamestown, said the county has initiated too many lawsuits, spending more than $1 million on outside legal services since 1990.

Mrs. Fagerstrom and Ronald Szot, D-Dunkirk, also said the county spends more than $300,000 annually to run the Law Department, which they called the "largest law firm in the county."

"It would appear that litigation, in his mind, comes before negotiation. We feel that some of these high costs could be avoided in the future if we looked more closely at the staffing of the department of law," Mrs. Fagerstrom said. Szot added, "A review of these high costs points to the need for an ad-hoc task force to critically study these costs. A cost-effective alternative could be the placement of a trained litigator directly on the Law Department staff."

Goodell said the number of lawsuits filed against the county had actually dropped since the county's self-insurance plan was implemented in the later 1980s.

"Our county Law Department staff handles the overwhelming majority of lawsuits brought against the county and does an excellent job," the county executive said. "We bring in outside counsel when there is a unique situation that requires some special expertise."

Mrs. Fagerstrom and Szot asked Legislature Chairman Richard Davies to appoint a task force to study the costs.

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