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Montgomery County may hire lawyer to fight suit

Tuesday, April 30, 2013
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— The Montgomery County Board of Supervisors is looking to hire outside help to clean up what Chairman John Thayer called a “big legal mess.”

Thayer set a special meeting for tonight to hire Johnstown law firm Hodgson Russ as legal counsel to fend off the recent lawsuit brought by the county’s former insurance broker.

Late last month, Benefits Marketing and its owner Pasquale “Pat” Baia filed suit in Supreme Court at Albany County demanding more than $1 million from the recently dissolved Montgomery County Health Insurance Trust along with the city of Amsterdam for breach of contract.

Even at $265 an hour, Thayer said, the services of Hodgson Russ are a bargain if the law firm can get the county out from under Baia’s suit.

Thayer described the situation in layman’s terms:

From 2007 to late last year, employee health insurance for the county, the city of Amsterdam and several municipalities were bundled together in a health insurance trust.

“It was basically like our own little insurance company,” he said, explaining that the trust collected money from employees and paid out the claims.

Baia under the name of Benefits Marketing originally helped build the trust and wrote himself into the contacts as a broker of record, receiving middle-man fees.

“The trust was never handled right,” Thayer said, citing consistent money problems and almost a complete lack of correct paperwork and accounting.

After years of board debate the trust was dissolved late last year. The county signed up with Empire Blue Cross to provide employee health benefits. The city and various municipalities also lined up independent health insurance. In the process, the county and city wrote Benefits Marketing out of their new contracts.

“We didn’t need a broker anymore,” Thayer said.

Baia forwarded all questions to his attorney, Matthew Cocca, who did not return calls for comment for this story Monday. Thayer said Baia is suing on the contention the original contracts were breached when he was written out of the new ones.

Thayer isn’t too worried about losing the suit. In fact, he said, the whole situation would have been pretty simple, except Baia has some ties to local government officials.

County Attorney Douglas Landon, for example, could not handle the lawsuit due to a conflict of interest.

Some of the board members also have a connection to Baia.

Thayer said several are personal friends and have gone on vacations with the man, though he would not identify them.

Baia refused comment on any personal ties he has.

Montgomery County obtained an extension on legal deadlines and will move forward once the attorney is hired.

 
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