And that's a decrease

Camden County general legal expenses totaled $371,180.74 last year. That may or may not seem high to residents, but does represent a nearly 4 percent decrease from 2016 when it reached $386,201.20.

The Lake Sun obtained a breakdown of county legal spending for 2016 and 2017 through a Sunshine Law records request for all payments made to attorneys during these time periods. Rather than receiving copies of the actual payments, a spreadsheet of total amounts paid to nine law firms, with a generic description of services, was provided. 

A list of juvenile legal expenses related to the justice system was also provided, but for the purposes of this story, those payments will not be analyzed. It should also be noted that this represents only direct legal representation for the county and not indirect represntation through insurance. It is a common practice in certain litigious circumstances for insurance companies to utilize their own lawyers if financial settlements or payouts are in consideration. This has occurred on several occasions with Camden County government.

Overall, payments for legal services directly attributable to the county commission totaled $143,884.12 in 2017 and $140,298.87 in 2016. These payments represent 39 percent and 36 percent of the overall total in 2017 and 2016.

The General County Fund paid $194,321 of the 2017 total and $166,928.70 in 2016, representing roughly 52 percent and 43 percent of the totals each year.

It is unclear what entity other than the county commission would draw from the General County Fund to pay for legal services.

The general legal expenses for county government appears to have been reduced mainly through reduction in Planning & Zoning legal fees. According to the spreadsheet provided, “P&Z - Legal” accounted for $49,719 in 2016. That was paid to Husch Blackwell. P&Z Legal does not appear at all in the payment listings to Husch Blackwell in 2017.

While the local Phillips, McElyea Law Firm is often thought of as the county attorney, they are not receiving the majority of county business.

Payments to Husch Blackwell accounted for $257,512.75 of total legal spending in 2017 and $279,818.82 in 2016. In 2017, descriptions for these payments are only described as “Commission - Legal” and “General County Fund” — $110,228.10 and $147,284.65 respectively.

Outside of P&Z - Legal in 2016, Husch Blackwell services are again only described as Commission- Legal and General County Fund — $102,741.41 and $126,574.30 respectively.

Phillips, McElyea is the firm receiving the next high amount of payments, receiving $89,721 in 2017 and $94,589.05 in 2016.

Descriptions of payments to Phillips, McElyea in 2017 varied widely and include Commission, Treasurer, Collector, Recorder, General County, Emergency Management, P&Z, Waste Water, Road & Bridge, Assessor, LEST (Law Enforcement Sales Tax), Sheriff Fee Fund, Passport and Juvenile. Still, legal services for the General County Fund and the Commission were the main county work of Phillips, McElyea with $37,488.35 and $19,819 paid from those descriptors in 2017.

In 2016, Phillips, McElyea received $40,354.40 and $34,273.35 for legal work, paid from the General County Fund and Commission. Other services were for the Clerk, Treasurer, Collector, Public Administrator, General County, Emergency Management, P&Z, Road & Bridge, LEST and HAZ MAT.

The majority of the rest of the payments for legal services went to four other firms in 2016 and six other firms in 2017 with services for the Commission and General County Fund accounting for the majority of the remaining amount of the payments. 

The other firms or attorneys include Gene Hilton, Gilmore & Bell, Lowther Johnson, Lowenbaum Law, Smith Law and Williams Law.

It should be noted that $4,016.58 was paid to Lowther Johnson in 2016 for Commission - Sunshine work. That rose to $6,219.48 in 2017. Lowther Johnson has also done work for LEST, the Clerk, General County and Passport over the last two years, totaling $3,046.87.