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Five law firms express interest in Langley contract

LANGLEY — Lawyers from across the region are ready to rush into the Village by the Sea.

And it’s just what Langley officials have been hoping for.

Five law firms — including one headed by Carol Morris, the attorney called in to rescue city hall during the Langley Passage brouhaha — have expressed interest in becoming the city’s new legal advisors.

Langley has been looking for a new attorney to hang his or her shingle in the city since December, as the city’s current legal services contract with Weed, Graafstra & Benson, Inc. was coming to a close and newfound revelations surfaced regarding the firm’s seemingly sloppy work in prior years.

Rather than extend the existing agreement, the city council called for a wider search for legal advisors, and Langley officials issued a call for proposals late last year.

Five application packets had been received through early Friday. City Clerk Debbie Mahler said she expected more to come in on the final day of the deadline, Friday, given the number of phone calls of interest in recent weeks.

Firms that have submitted packets so far are Skinner & Saar of Oak Harbor; Kenyon Disend of Issaquah; Morris Law of Seabeck; Summit Law Group of Seattle; and Mark Hanley, an attorney in Coupeville.

The law office of Skinner and Saar was founded in 1996 by local attorney Christon Skinner. Skinner has been a lawyer in Island County for more than 32 years, according to the firm’s correspondence with the city, and operates two offices in Oak Harbor and Friday Harbor. The firm’s seven attorneys have handled civil lawsuits in areas including real estate, land use, contract and employment disputes, personal injury and tort claims, criminal law and marital dissolutions.

Michael Kenyon and Bruce Disend founded Kenyon Disend in Issaquah in 1993. Focused on municipal law, the firm now serves nearly 50 cities, counties and other public agencies. All of the firm’s attorneys currently serve as city attorneys or assistant city attorneys.

Morris, the outside attorney who was called in when the city’s review of the Langley Passage subdivision began to flounder on a reef of lawsuit threats, has also offered to step in to help the city on its legal work.

Morris submitted a joint proposal with Kristin Anger of Summit Law Group, with Morris Law serving as city attorney and Anger handling employment and personnel matters.

The city council was presented with a new contract for Weed, Graafstra & Benson, Inc. in early December, but the proposal was abruptly pulled from the agenda following a Record story that recounted how lawyers at the firm failed to review at least 15 ordinances that were sent to the council for approval. The council approved the legislation, and City Attorney Grant Weed later reviewed the ordinances and signed them all in a batch, while noting that some contained legal flaws.

The Snohomish-based firm has not submitted a package to be considered for the city attorney job in Langley.

The city will get some heavyweight help in sorting through the thick proposal packages from prospective lawyers that are landing at city hall.

Mayor Larry Kwarsick said earlier he hoped to ask Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks to serve on the committee that will assess candidates for the contract.

Banks indicated last week he is willing to help out.

Banks said he was initially concerned that his schedule would be too tight to assist, but with the postponement of the James Huden first-degree murder trial, his calendar cleared up a bit.

“I don’t have a problem with giving them a government attorney’s perspective on things,” he said.

It’s reasonable, Banks added, for a city to pay as-needed for legal services rather than having an attorney on staff.

“A lot of cities do contract for it. It’s just too expensive for small towns to keep someone on,” he said.

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