PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The McKee administration has retained outside legal counsel after R.I. Attorney General Peter Neronha refused to defend the governor’s office in the lawsuit tied to the controversial evictions of homeless people camping out at the State House.

Neronha spokesperson Brian Hodge said the decision stemmed from the fact that Gov. Dan McKee’s office didn’t consult with the attorney general’s lawyers before handing out eviction notices last week to several people who had been sleeping in front of the State House.

“In this matter, the Governor’s Office first contacted the Office of the Attorney General to request legal representation when it learned that it would be served with a lawsuit,” Hodge said in a statement. “Not having been previously consulted in any manner regarding their decision to evict and the way those evictions would be effectuated, we declined their request for representation.”

As a result, McKee has retained attorneys R. Bart Totten and Stephen Lapatin of the Providence-based private law firm Adler Pollock & Sheehan to represent him in the lawsuit, according to court records. Adler Pollock has represented the McKee and Raimondo administrations in various major lawsuits, including challenges to the 2011 pension overhaul and the 2016 truck-tolling law.

McKee’s office did not immediately respond to questions about how much the outside legal counsel would cost. Neronha’s decision not to participate in the lawsuit was first reported by the website UpriseRI.

Watch: Advocates speak out against McKee’s handling of the homeless crisis (Story continues below.)

The legal proceedings started after the governor last week gave people living in the encampment 48 hours to vacate the State House or face legal action, citing a trespassing law.

The encampment had been growing for months, as people without homes and advocates tried to draw awareness to the ongoing lack of housing in Rhode Island that has exacerbated homelessness across the state.

Appearing last Friday on 12 News at 4, Crossroads Rhode Island President and CEO Karen Santilli said she has never seen Rhode Island’s homeless problem as bad as it is today.

“There is not enough supply of services and shelter beds for what is being demanded by the numbers of people that are experiencing homelessness,” Santilli said. “At Crossroads our women’s shelter, our COVID overflow shelter, our warming center, our domestic violence shelter and our family shelter are all full. There are no available beds.”

A day after McKee’s staff handed out eviction notices, attorney Rick Corley filed a temporary injunction in R.I. Superior Court, arguing the people had a legal right to be on the State House grounds.

On Monday, the state affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union and Rhode Island Center for Justice joined the legal fight against the governor, arguing the effort to remove the homeless people violated their constitutional rights and the state’s Homeless Bill of Rights.

“The law is clear: the government’s ability to interfere with individuals exercising their rights of free speech and to petition the government is at its most limited when that protest is at a public forum like the State House,” Lynette Labinger, an ACLU of Rhode Island cooperating attorney, said in a statement.

“Instead of taking the time and fulfilling its responsibility to consider, craft and publish narrowly tailored rules limiting the interference with these most basic and fundamental rights and applicable to all, the state has chosen to target this group with arrest and seizure of their property,” Labinger added.

At a hearing Wednesday morning, Superior Court Judge David Cruise left in place a temporary restraining order that blocks the evictions, and scheduled a new hearing in the case for Friday.

At the same time, the governor’s office has been trying to set up temporary housing for homeless people inside the Cranston Street Armory in the city’s West End neighborhood. The huge historic building — built in 1907 — has been mostly shuttered since the 1980s.

“Our staff is trying to find housing for people who are homeless that are in front of the State House,” McKee said Monday when asked about the legal disputes. “The people who are supporting the court action are trying to keep those people who are homeless, homeless.”

Eli Sherman (esherman@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter for 12 News. Connect with him on Twitter and on Facebook.

Ted Nesi and Alexandra Leslie contributed to this report.