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Page administration cancels contracts plagued by legal questions

The move to terminate the agreements came after questions about the legality of an ordinance passed with the vote of a councilwoman who's term had previously expired
Credit: KSDK

ST. LOUIS — St. Louis County's top lawyer on Friday said she is canceling four contracts for outside legal work after questions were raised about the legality of a bill used to justify them.

But Beth Orwick, counselor for County Executive Sam Page, asked members of the County Council to reauthorize legislation so that her department could still hire law firms to help with COVID-19 work and increased litigation being filed against the government.

The Business Journal first reported on three legal contracts in February with Stinson LLP, Lewis Rice LLC and Littler Mendelson PC. This week the newspaper revealed the existence of another, with HeplerBroom LLC.

The Page administration relied on the Jan. 5 passage of Bill 314 to enter into the contracts. Previously, the council was required to give its OK to outside legal contracts one at a time. But Bill 314 allowed Orwick to enter into contracts with outside legal firms without council approval, under the justification that the county needed additional legal resources to manage the litigation being filed against it. The only limitation imposed by the bill was that hourly rates not exceed $400.

Councilwoman Rochelle Walton Gray cast the decisive vote for Bill 314, despite the fact that her term had ended five days earlier, on Dec. 31. Her successor, Shalonda Webb, was not scheduled to be sworn in until Jan. 12 due to a change in the county charter.

Gray also cast the deciding vote to re-elect Councilwoman Lisa Clancy as the council's chair for 2021, setting off a leadership dispute that eventually ended up in court. Earlier this month, a judge weighing in on the leadership challenge ruled that Gray should not have been allowed to vote on Jan. 5, leading lawmakers to also question the validity of the vote approving Bill 314. Webb now has Gray's seat, forming a 4-3 majority block that's more hostile to Page. 

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