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County pays veteran attorney $475,040

Why was Bruce Snow paid nearly half a million while five full-time staff attorneys together cleared less than $300,000? To know that, you'd have to know him.

© St. Petersburg Times
published December 6, 2002

BROOKSVILLE -- During the three decades Bruce Snow has worked as an attorney for Hernando County, he has developed a reputation for having a skillful legal mind, and for being incurably tardy in tasks ranging from closing cases to returning phone calls.

In fact, the soft-spoken attorney is so notoriously lacking in expedition that some say he lives in a unique dimension where "Bruce Snow Time" prevails.

Perhaps, some suggest, that's why it was not until last December that Snow presented the county with bills for legal work dating back to 1987. The bills add up to $386,332.50, according to county records.

Add to that amount his more recent earnings, and Snow was paid $475,040 in fiscal year 2002, which ended in September. That nearly half million dollar figure dwarfs the $292,650 the county paid the five full-time attorneys in its legal department during the same period.

"He could have asked for a lot more," said assistant county attorney Kent Weissinger. "For whatever reason, he did not submit his bills."

According to Snow, he formulated the figure for what he was owed at the request of the county, which had decided to replace him with a full-time attorney and legal staff in 2000. That year, Snow stepped down from the county attorney post, a job he had performed part-time for 28 years. He is now a special counsel for the county.

Snow said he had not charged the county for much of the work he had performed over the years, nor had he charged interest on outstanding fees owed to him.

The bills Snow submitted for the decade-old work were highly detailed, broken down into specific cases and further chopped up into dated increments, some as brief as a tenth of an hour, and dubbed "Figurski to Snow letter" or "Memo to Phyllis."

According to Weissinger, Snow, whom he considers a mentor, is a wealth of legal and historical knowledge whose insight and experience is of great value to the county. County Attorney Garth Coller shares Weissinger's high opinion.

"Bruce is a very creative, very intuitive lawyer," Coller said. "The only knock you ever hear on Bruce is a problem with returning phone calls and with timeliness."

While Snow is held in high regard, his billing practices have been questioned in the past by auditors and county commissioners. Coller said he has toughened oversight of Snow's billing to ensure that such questions do not arise again.

Under Snow's current contract, which took effect March 1, he is paid a $42,000 annual retainer. The first 10 hours Snow works on a project are covered by the retainer. For every hour beyond that, he charges the county $175.

It's the aim of the legal department to perform more of its duties in-house, rather than shopping the work out to special counsels like Snow, Coller said. At present, Snow is chiefly involved in handling utilities litigation for the county.

As to his reputation for being somewhat of a dawdler, Snow said there are occasions when such a knack is needed.

"There are some times in litigation that the best service a lawyer can provide his client is that the wheels of justice flow surely, but not swiftly," he said.

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