County attorney accepts Bridgewater post

J. Jay Litten plans to step down as Shenandoah County’s county attorney to take over government administration in Bridgewater.

Litten would succeed longtime Town Administrator Bob Holton, who has led Bridgewater’s government for decades. Litten said in an email Thursday that Holton has agreed to stay on as his assistant for at least a year.

“He is a wonderful administrator with over 40 years in the position,” Litten states in the email.

Bridgewater officials were not available Thursday to talk about Litten’s appointment. Litten also serves as town attorney for Bridgewater.

Litten submitted a letter dated July 21 to the Board of Supervisors indicating his intentions to resign from the attorney position. Litten states in the letter that he has been offered the town manager position and the job would begin Jan. 1.

“I’ve worked hard and given the best advice I could, and together, we won every court battle,” Litten states in an earlier email. “There is a vibrancy to Shenandoah County that makes fighting for good government very rewarding.

“So I don’t leave because I’m down on the County; I leave only because I’ve been given the opportunity to make a real difference in the life of my hometown,” Litten adds. “In the end, I just couldn’t turn down that chance. Plus, if the Supervisors elect to retain Litten & Sipe, I know that the County will be in good hands.”

Litten’s departure could revive the push by Supervisors Cindy Bailey and Marsha Shruntz to seek a new attorney or law firm for the county. Bailey tried several times to have board members at least discuss the possibility of obtaining legal services through the advertisement process. Bailey and Shruntz have been vocal critics of Litten, how much the county pays for his services and questioned his legal advice and interpretations on such matters as open meeting laws.

A majority of the board in October took the rare step to keep Bailey or Shruntz from trying to bring up the issue of Litten’s contract to any meetings for six months.

As County Administrator Mary Beth Price explained Thursday, the county has a contract with the Harrisonburg law firm of Litten & Sipe. Different attorneys with Litten & Sipe have provided legal counsel to the county, though Litten has been the appointed attorney. Whether that contract would continue once Litten resigns at the end of the year remains uncertain.

Price said Thursday plans to bring up the matter of the attorney position at the Board of Supervisors work session next week.

In the letter, Litten speaks positively about his experience working with the board and county officials.

“It’s been challenging and rewarding work, and I’ve enjoyed nearly every minute,” the letter states. “While the thought of leaving my clients has been gut-wrenching, the chance to make a real difference in my hometown was more than I could pass up.”

Litten adds that he hopes the county continues to use Litten & Sipe for legal counsel and representation.

“Representing local governments is at the very core of what L&S does; the firm represents numerous governments and governmental entities,” the letter states. “I’m also hopeful that I can remain attached to the firm in some way, even if I won’t be there on a daily basis. That way I could still put my experience to work for clients.”

Fellow attorney Jason Ham is expected to fill in for Litten at board meetings as needed, the letter notes. Litten points out that Ham is well versed in local government law.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com