Two firms offer legal services to county

Shenandoah County might stick with the same legal firm after all.

The county received proposals earlier this month from two law offices seeking to provide legal services to the local government and the Board of Supervisors. Miller, Earle & Shanks PLLC and Litten & Sipe LLP responded to the county’s request for proposals advertised in September. Both firms are based in Harrisonburg.

Assistant County Administrator Evan Vass informed supervisors in an Oct. 6 memo that they would need to decide how and when to proceed with the selection process. In conformance with the county’s procurement policies, proposals are not open to the general public until after an award is made, Vass noted.

Both firms have experience providing legal services to local governments. Litten and Sipe has served Shenandoah County since the late 1990s. Miller, Earle and Shanks has also served state and local agencies and county boards of supervisors. Nathan H. Miller, a managing partner with Miller, Earle and Shanks, served on the Virginia House of Delegates and Senate. Miller works as the town attorney for Strasburg. Miller also once worked for Litten and Sipe.

A majority of the Board of Supervisors voted Aug. 25 to authorize the county administration to advertise the request for proposals. The move came after County Attorney J. Jay Litten announced his plans to resign at the end of the year to take the town superintendent position for Bridgewater. Litten works for Litten and Sipe. The firm has agreed to provide services to the county and board until officials choose otherwise.

However, since the beginning of the year, Supervisors Cindy Bailey and Marsha Shruntz have sought to remove Litten as the county attorney. The supervisors cited a lack of a formal contract and, at least in Bailey’s case, disagreements over certain legal questions. Shruntz also sued the county before her election to the board.

Bailey and Shruntz tried on several occasions to have the board bring up the issue at a regular meeting. Bailey had suggested that the board should try to offer a contract to other law firms or attorneys in the county. After repeated unsuccessful attempts, Vice Chairman Conrad Helsley invoked a board rule to limit any member’s ability to bring up the question of Litten as county attorney at a meeting for six months.

When Litten announced his resignation and county officials moved forward to advertise for proposals, Bailey and Shruntz voted against the action that both supervisors had sought months earlier. Instead, Bailey and Shruntz sought to delay action until after the Nov. 3 elections so the “new board members” could be involved in the selection process. Supervisors for districts 2, 3 and 6 are seeking re-election and face challengers connected to supporters of Bailey and Shruntz or who have expressed opinions about government spending similar to those of the two members.

The remaining four supervisors who often disagree with Bailey and Shruntz have voiced continued support for Litten and Sipe. They also cite a memorandum of agreement with the firm that outlines the fees charged for various services as a contract of sorts. Bailey and Shruntz have disputed the use of the memorandum as a contract. Chairman David Ferguson and other supporters of Litten have argued that the county pays less for the firm’s legal services than other local governments that keep an attorney on staff.

A third response received by the county does not conform to the request for proposals, Vass states in his memo. The response came from a Texas-based consulting firm advising that it could provide and facilitate a search for a county attorney. Vass does not identify the firm and notes that the company could not provide legal counsel per the intent of the request for proposals.

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