Council’s use of big city law firm grates

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Queenstown council’s use of an Auckland lawyer for dog attack prosecutions is under fire.

Auckland lawyer Michael Walker, of Meredith Connell, has represented the council in several recent and ongoing prosecutions of Queenstown dog owners involving attacks on people and other animals. 

Council boss Adam Feeley defends the move.

But lawyers in the resort town spoken to by the Otago Daily Times say local firms can handle such cases, and believe spending council funds out of the district was “wasteful and unnecessary”.

Queenstown lawyer Stephen Brent says the expertise required for dog attack prosecutions is available locally.

“It does grate that council funds are disappearing out of town for legal services when we’ve got, in my view, ample skills and expertise to handle everything that the council can do.”

Another local lawyer, Alan Harper, says local authorities have a clear responsibility to buy services in their own communities whenever possible.

“To go down the process they have done, using a number of out-of-town firms, is wasteful and quite unnecessary, because all the expertise and knowledge – with a few obvious exceptions – is available in Queenstown.”

Out-of-town lawyers can be justified where there was a conflict of interest issue, or in rare cases where the necessary expertise is not available in Queenstown, Mr Harper says.

Dog attack prosecutions are “definitely not” in that category.

Feeley says dog attacks are “not minor matters”.

A consequence of conviction generally is the dog being put down, something owners contest vigorously.

Of the four prosecutions brought by the council in recent months, two resulted in convictions and he hopes for the same result for the others.

“A young child being mauled by a dog is about as serious as our enforcement cases get.”

Meredith Connell are the country’s most experienced criminal prosecutors, and operate on “very modest” Crown solicitor rates with a top rate of $198 an hour.

It and the council’s other non-local firm, Simpson Grierson, do not charge for flights or accommodation.

The council’s management of its legal costs also requires getting value for money, “in which it is implicit that your legal counsel will achieve a successful outcome,” Mr Feeley says.

The district’s residents are “simply interested in ensuring that the council use the best service providers who provide the best value for money”, he says.

The council appointed a panel of legal service providers in 2013 after tendering its legal work.

Besides Meredith Connell and Simpson Grierson, it includes South Island firm Lane Neave, Queenstown firm Mactodd, employment law specialists Quigg Partners and leaky building specialists Heaney & Partners.

Otago Daily Times