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Briefings: Solicitor Pikula Retiring; His Replacement Shall be a Payne…

The series finale of EdTV has been announced. (WMP&I)

After 15 years leading the Springfield Law Department, City Solicitor Ed Pikula is filing a motion to withdraw—metaphorically. The longtime city lawyer will retire this year, but his successor is no stranger to the job. Mayor Domenic Sarno announced in a release that former City Solicitor John Payne will take over the role.

Pikula has been a fixture of city government for decades. Few non-elected figures are as recognizable as Pikula. The late Charles Ryan, Sarno’s predecessor, appointed the retiring solicitor in 2006. He has outlasted other prominent department heads like police and fire chiefs. That has put Pikula on both sides of numerous famous and infamous city legal battles with developers, city councilors, police misconduct plaintiffs, civil libertarians and the federal government.

“It has been an honor and a privilege to serve the City of Springfield and the Sarno Administration as City Solicitor,” Pikula said in a release the mayor’s office release. “However, I am at a point where I would like to step back and devote more time to my family.”

In a smooch to Sarno, after 40 years, seven mayors and nine solicitors, Pikula said none had done a better job than his current boss. He assured a smooth transition.

While often in court, Pikula had many a cameo at City Council meetings. As the city’s top lawyer, he oversaw all in-house and outside city counsel. The work the Law Department does is broad. Multiple attorneys, including Pikula himself, appear before the Council to explain items on the agenda.

However, like any client and being an independent branch of government, councilors could differ from his advice. Usually, this became more prominent on matters regarding the body’s own authority such as resisting the biomass plant on Page Boulevard and reviving the Police Commission. In raw numbers, these are the exception. Yet, even discretionary matters could raise councilors’ eyebrows. One example was an appropriation to the city’s settlement account to clear pending police misconduct cases.

Solicitor Ed Pikula with Mayor Sarno & then city economic czar Kevin Kennedy in 2015. (WMassP&I)

Overall, Pikula enjoyed respect even from councilors and definitely from other members of the bar.

Ward 2 City Councilor Michael Fenton, a lawyer, jousted with Pikula over the years, including on biomass and police oversight. However, in a statement to WMP&I, he had only positive thoughts for his fellow attorney.

“Ed devoted his career to Springfield and always defended her reputation in court, in public sessions, and in private conversation. He always believed in Springfield and its promise,” Fenton said. “He is a skilled attorney and more importantly he was always a loyal and effective steward for the city who left an indelible mark on our city. Springfield citizens owe him a debt of gratitude. For me his legacy will be the progress we have achieved, particularly in the last decade. We thank him for his service to the city he loves and calls home.”

Despite their differences at times, Fenton had no hard feelings.

“Personally, I will miss Ed as the solicitor. Over the years Ed and I have been allies and adversaries, but no matter the issue, I always considered Ed a friend and knew him to have the City’s best interests at heart,” the councilor said. “I wish him well and look forward to working with Judge Payne as this transition unfolds.”

Certainly, the man who supervised Pikula liked the job he did.

In his statement, Sarno began with “my many thanks to City Solicitor Ed Pikula for his many years of dedicated service to our city.” Noting Pikula’s lengthy tenure predating his election, the mayor added, “Ed has been absolutely invaluable to our city and me.  He epitomizes a true public servant.”

John Payne

Then-still-a-judge John Payne in 2019. (via NEPM/Adam Frenier)

Payne, the once and future Solicitor, returns after retiring as First Justice of Springfield District Court last year. The late Governor Paul Cellucci appointed Payne to the bench in 2001. Before that, he worked at various law firms. As the mayor’s office noted, Payne had been former Mayor Mary Hurley’s Solicitor.

“I want to thank Mayor Sarno for his vote of confidence and for the opportunity to serve the city that I love,” Payne said in the mayor’s release. “I am looking forward to working with the administration, city council and our dedicated city departments for the betterment of our residents.”

The incoming solicitor also observed his predecessor’s tenure. “I also want to thank Attorney Pikula for his service to our city and look forward to working with him during this transitionary period,” he said.