WCCHS legal costs more than expected

WARSAW — Spending for some legal services at the Wyoming County Community Health System turned out more than expected.

The WCCHS received a bill from the law firm Garfunkel Wild for services rendered, two years after the original agreement resolution was approved — much of which was attributed to the issues surrounding the departure earlier this year of Dr. Paul Mason.

The WCCHS had approved resolutions to retain Garfunkel Wild — a law firm in Great Neck, Long Island — on April 27, 2021 and Jan. 25, 2022. The firm was to provide legal advice and services involving regulatory matters, business transactions and other routine matters at a cost not to exceed $10,000 for 2022.

Prior to the 2021 contract, the amount was not to exceed $5,000 per month.

The contract approved in April 2021 was retroactive to January of that year. It was then extended to be effective to the end of December 2022, during action taken at the Jan. 25, 2022 meeting.

But Garfunkel Wild billed the WCCHS $186,703.05 for services rendered for the periods April 2020, October 2020, December 2020, January 2021, and May-December 2021.

Rich Kosmerl, Board of Managers president, said during a WCCHS Board of Manager’s meeting it was surprising that Garfunkel Wild billed WCCHS back to 2020 rather than keeping it current. He said the hospital’s contract with the law firm has a clause for items outside of typical legal work by the retainer can be billed separately.

“Going through this, they came up with documented hours covering several topics, one of which was the whole issue surrounding Dr. (Paul) Mason,” Kosmerl said. “That was about 85 percent of that $186,000.”

Board of Managers member Dr. James Wawrzyniak wanted to know how much Garfunkel Wild charged WCCHS an hour. Merlyn Knapp, departed interim CFO, said the amount was between $300 to $500 per hour depending on the level of participation.

Chairwoman Rebecca Ryan of the Wyoming County Board of Supervisors said that on the town level the town attorney does the same thing of billing an hourly rate and, outside of the typical retaining hours, can bill for extra hours.

During Board of Supervisors Finance Committee meeting conducted last week on June 7, Middlebury Supervisor Dan Leuer said paying $10,000 for routine legal matters a month is excessive.

“When you look at this for six months, for $186,000 (additional), six in 18 is 30. So it’s an additional $30,000 per month on top of the $10,000,” said Arcade Supervisor Douglas Berwanger. “So that’s $40,000 (per month). That seems pretty excessive as well. I don’t know. Maybe there is something going on we weren’t aware of.”

The resolution passed the WCCHS Board of Managers to pay the extra cost with Wawrzyniak being the sole dissenting vote. It also passed the Board of Supervisors Finance Committee with three votes dissenting.

The Batavia Daily News tried reaching out to Garfunkel Wild and WCCHS for further information. Garfunkel Wild never responded while WCCHS declined to comment.

The resolution will be up for a vote at today’s 2:30 p.m. Board of Supervisors meeting.

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