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Legal bills in county strife: $647,246

The legal bills have been tallied for last year's Erie County budget strife and some of its ongoing cases: $647,246.

The largest amount -- $329,600 -- went to the firm of Harter, Secrest & Emery, hired by the county attorney's office to defend the county executive and the County Legislature from budget lawsuits filed by the county's elections commissioners, then-County Comptroller Nancy A. Naples, District Attorney Frank J. Clark, County Clerk David J. Swarts and then-Sheriff Patrick J. Gallivan.

Those lawsuits were partially successful, as those officials negotiated to win back some of the money that had been cut from their departments.

Harter Secrest also defended the county in lawsuits brought by its unions and in an open-meetings law case filed by taxpayer Daniel T. Warren of West Seneca, who tried unsuccessfully to have the budget set aside because lawmakers had discussed it in an illegal closed-door session.

The county attorney also hired the law firm of Magavern & Magavern, which billed for $149,828, records show. According to its invoices, Magavern & Magavern defended the county in litigation from Erie County Medical Center as it successfully protected its taxpayer-provided support, and it worked on the Board of Elections lawsuit, as its commissioners protected their rights to determine spending their budget allocation.

In the lawsuits filed by county officials, taxpayers paid the legal fees for both defendants and plaintiffs. In July, a State Supreme Court justice said attorneys for Naples, Clark, Gallivan and Swarts could collect $167,818 in taxpayer money for their work.

e-mail: mspina@buffnews.com

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