Franklin County Prosecutor's Office taps Kennewick law firm to replace civil attorney

Geoff Folsom, Tri-City HeraldApril 30, 2014 

The Franklin County Prosecutor's Office will be replacing its staff civil attorney by contracting with a private law firm.

County commissioners approved an agreement with the Bell, Brown & Rio of Kennewick to represent the county for $6,000 a month. The county will use the lawyers to replace Ryan Verhulp, who recently left his job as the county's chief deputy prosecutor for a position with Energy Northwest in Richland.

The county has contracted for civil attorneys before, but in specialized areas like environmental and employment issues, said Prosecutor Shawn Sant.

Bell, Brown & Rio will have two lawyers available to help Franklin County, Sant said. The firm has previously worked with the cities of Richland, West Richland and Pasco.

The fee will pay for the services formerly done by Verhulp, who advised commissioners on issues like the threatened species listing for the White Bluffs bladderpod and marijuana regulations, Commissioner Rick Miller said. It would not cover fees if a civil case went to trial.

Contracting for routine legal services will likely save the county some money, Sant said. Verhulp's salary was $101,000 annually plus benefits.

The agreement is tentatively set to run for six months, giving the county a chance to see if it is working, Sant said.

"If it appears that we need to have an additional, in-house attorney, we have time to seek that replacement," he said.

Commissioners supported the concept, but Chairman Bob Koch expressed frustration that Sant gave the board less than a day's notice before bringing the contract to them for a vote.

"Everybody else would have had to bring this in last Monday," Koch said.

Sant said he was still working out details of the contract.

Koch and Commissioner Rick Miller ended up voting for the contract, but Commissioner Brad Peck abstained because he has worked with the firm on matters unrelated to the county.

Also Wednesday:

-- Commissioners approved extending extra help for Franklin County Coroner Dan Blasdel, who is on "light duty" while he recovers from foot surgery. Blasdel said his doctor told him to stay off his foot for six more weeks. Commissioners will continue to pay for the extra worker out of $29,000 they approved in January. Deputy Prosecutor Janet Taylor said the county has used less than a third of the money that was allocated.

-- Commissioners approved a $13,304 contract between the Benton-Franklin human services department and River of Life Metropolitan Community Church for help with a homeless housing program. The program will provide vouchers and case management services.

-- Geoff Folsom: 509-582-1543; gfolsom@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @GeoffFolsom

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