Corporation Counsel

City Hall - 25 Cottage Road
767-7605 - Telephone 767-7620 - Fax
Monday-Friday 8 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.

The South Portland Legal Department is staffed by one attorney; the City's appointed Corporation Counsel and one Assistant/Secretary. Additional funding is provided in the annual budget for outside counsel, hired by the City Council in circumstances where particular expertise is required or Corporation Counsel has a conflict of time or interest. The Legal Department is the central location where all legal issues before the City are managed and overseen.

One of the great challenges in municipal law is the variety of legal subjects, especially given the limited time in which answers and solutions are needed. The Legal Department handles questions ranging from taxation to insurance, personal injury to civil rights, constitutional law administrative law to contracts, property rights to environmental law. Local, State and Federal law must be observed.

Activities in the Legal Department can be divided into three approximately equal parts: litigation, City Council issues (for example, advising the Council at meetings and drafting ordinances) and advising the other City departments when questions arise. While the Legal Department does not deal directly with members of the public as a significant portion of its activities, it does attempt to be user-friendly and responsive to citizen questions and concerns. For example, the Legal Assistant/Secretary is the liaison between the City and Maine Municipal Association, its insurance administrator, and spends many hours each week on claims, including those presented by citizens for such problems as sewer backups and potholes.

Litigation in the City is varied. When a person sues the City for money, and the case is covered by insurance, the insurance carrier will generally refer the case to outside counsel. In these cases, although the Legal Department does not represent the City in cases not covered by insurance, appeals of court, it does track the case and provide a liaison to the City Council, City employees, and City information. Many types of cases, not involving money damages, are handled by Corporation Counsel. All governmental action (for example, a Planning Board decision or challenge to the validity of ordinance), and enforcement of ordinances are handled by Corporation Counsel. Additionally, Corporation Counsel monitors all litigation to determine if any preventive measures can be taken to minimize future lawsuits.

Since the day-to-day functioning of City business frequently requires fast decision-making on any number of subjects--often of great delicacy--good relations and communications are necessary between the Legal Department and other departments. The Legal Department offers advice and counsel when requested by the Police, Fire, Public Works, Planning, City Clerk, Finance, Pollution Control, Engineering, Code Enforcement, Bus Service, Library, Welfare, Assessing, Parks and Recreation and Personnel Departments, as well as the Planning Board, Board of Assessment Review, Civil Service Commission and other City Boards. While the general public rarely sees the Legal Department in action in this role, the Legal Department provides a vital link in assisting the other departments and boards that do provide the best services possible.

For questions and public access requests under FOAA, please submit to Michele Howard, Legal Secretary / Public Access Officer.