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    Outgoing state GOP chair lands $75,000 contract with sheriff

    Kirsten Hughes said she personally sought out a role under special sheriff Robert Harnais, a fellow Quincy native and attorney who has led the office on an interim basis.
    Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe/File 2018
    Kirsten Hughes said she personally sought out a role under special sheriff Robert Harnais, a fellow Quincy native and attorney who has led the office on an interim basis.

    Outgoing state Republican Party chair Kirsten Hughes didn’t have to wait long to find a landing spot.

    Hughes, a licensed attorney, signed a one-year, $75,000 contract to serve as “special legal counsel” to the Norfolk County sheriff’s office, the taxpayer-funded agency tasked with overseeing the Norfolk County jail in Dedham.

    Hughes, 41, said she personally sought out a role under special sheriff Robert Harnais, a fellow Quincy native and attorney who has led the office on an interim basis since longtime sheriff Michael G. Bellotti resigned in late October.

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    Hughes reached out directly to Harnais in mid-November because she “figured there would be things he would need help with,” she said in a Wednesday interview.

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    By Nov. 19 — three days after she told state Republican committee members she didn’t intend to run for a fourth, two-year term in January — Hughes and the agency agreed to a deal paying her up to $6,250 a month as an independent contractor.

    Harnais, who had previously served as the agency’s contracted legal counsel, cautioned that Hughes may not work the full year under the contract. He described her as helping ease the “transition” to the still-unnamed acting sheriff by reviewing contracts, auditing departments, and providing legal counsel.

    “There isn’t a special reason,” Harnais said of tapping Hughes, a Quincy city councilor he’s donated $1,750 to since 2015 but said he’s known for years. (Harnais is not enrolled in a political party.)

    “She’s a lawyer. I know the kind of work she does. She’s capable, very capable,” he said. “And I needed someone.”

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    Governor Charlie Baker has the power to appoint a new sheriff, who’ll serve until voters can make their pick in a 2020 special election to fill the final two years of Bellotti’s six-year term. Bellotti left the office to serve as interim president at Quincy College. Baker’s office said he is in the process of reviewing potential appointments.

    But Hughes, who has a “big Kirsten fan” in Baker, said she’s not among them. Baker’s aides said he hasn’t spoken to her about the vacancy, nor was he aware she had secured her new role at the agency.

    Hughes described the new job as an attempt to build her legal resume and pay the bills, not to seek a political stepping stone.

    “I’ve not sought the appointment,” Hughes said Wednesday. “I never approached the governor about going there. I think it’s a great opportunity, I think it’s a wonderful place and a great way to work in the community. But [the sheriff’s position] is not something I’m interested in pursuing. . . . It’s not where I want to take my next steps.”

    A lawyer since 2008, Hughes has served in recent years as a defense attorney and bar advocate for the Committee for Public Counsel Services. She’s also served since 2012 on the Quincy city council, making $29,700 last year.

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    She closed a chapter in her political life last month when she decided not to seek reelection to the GOP post, prompting a competition over the direction of party leadership.

    Three potential candidates have been sending e-mails and calling state committee members, and at least one other possible contender, an outgoing state representative, said he is also weighing a run.

    Brent J. Andersen, who has served as party treasurer since 2003, and state Representative Peter J. Durant, a Spencer Republican, have both declared their intent to seek the seat.

    Outgoing state Representative Geoff Diehl, who unsuccessfully challenged Senator Elizabeth Warren this year, has been mulling whether to also make a bid, as has fellow outgoing state Representative James Lyons of Andover.

    The Republican state committee will select a new chair at its January meeting.

    Baker’s advisers have indicated he does not plan to get directly involved in the race.

    Reach Matt Stout at matt.stout@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mattpstout.