If The Times Leader didn’t dig into the billings of Kingston attorney Angela Stevens, it’s highly unlikely the public would ever have learned she overbilled the county, possibly knowingly.
We sure couldn’t count on county Judge Tina Polachek Gartley, who signed off on Stevens’ bills without reviewing them. At the very least, this judge should be reprimanded for her careless handling of taxpayers’ money.
Did Judge Gartley even look at Stevens’ bills before approving them for payment? If she did, how did she not notice that a part-time lawyer was raking in more than $144,000 a year? Then again, how did this judge fail to notice that there are not 46 hours in a day? TL staff writer Terrie Morgan-Besecker discovered that Stevens charged the county for that extra long, non-existent day. Her petition for payment said she prepared 46 bills that day that took her an hour each.
Now another lawyer has come forward with 151 bills totaling $39,000, some which date back to 2010, the newspaper reported today. Judge Gartley has already approved them for payment, Besecker reported. By all means, consider those bills not yet reviewed.
Attorney Jami Brown said she fell behind on her billings; that’s why they’re so late. She sure doesn’t typify most lawyers, whose billings have you at hello.
As for Stevens, why are we even paying someone, a lawyer no less, for the time it takes to prepare a bill and then for the time it takes to deliver it to the courthouse? Stevens charged county taxpayers $36 to travel from her Pierce Street office and across the bridge to the courthouse.
But, don’t worry, taxpayers, Stevens promised to “rectify” the errors and even hired an outside auditing firm to examine her bills. The county will do likewise.
Now county solicitor Vito DeLuca has entered the fray. A former client of Stevens came forward and said he had notified former county commissioner Steve Urban, who’s now a county council member, that he suspected Stevens’ bills didn’t match the services she provided. Urban said he notified DeLuca, who said he doesn’t recall there was a question with bill discrepancies; otherwise he’d have gotten on it right away.
County Controller Walter Griffiths said he didn’t review the bills because he thought Gartley did. Chief Public Defender Al Flora said he didn’t review them because his only involvement was that his budget was the conduit through which the bills were paid.
But the best excuse of all was Gartley’s. She said she takes lawyers at their words when they submit a bill because they subject themselves to perjury charges if they provide false information.
Pray tell, how does one ascertain whether anyone is providing false information on bills if those bills are simply rubber stamped?
Maybe The Times Leader should submit a bill for reviewing these payments and bringing to light what escaped our county overseers – the possible overpayment of tens of thousands of taxpayers’ dollars, which is indefensible
- Betty Roccograndi