Sunday, December 21, 2008

Indiana's Version of Pay to Play: Barnes & Thornburg Wins Large City Legal Contracts

Today's Indianapolis Star contains a front-page, above-the-fold article entitled "When Ballard Won So Did Law Firm" which details how Indianapolis law firm Barnes & Thornburg, not only have received substantial legal contracts from the Mayor, but how the law firm has basically taken over the Mayor's Office. One of the revelations is that Bob Grand or Joe Loftus, both partners at Barnes & Thornburg, sit in on Ballard's weekly meetings with key staff. This column though will focus on the subject of legal fees.

Certainly the contracts received for legal services by Barnes & Thornburg are substantial. Although the Mayor claims cost cutting on the issue of legal fees, it should be noted that neither City Legal nor Barnes & Thornburg have exactly been open and up front about what legal work has been dispensed to Barnes & Thornburg. As one example, initially City Legal claimed that the discrimination legal work for the Coroner that had been directed to Barnes & Thornburg during Mayor Peterson's administration. It simply was not true. In April of 2008, City Legal demanded the cases back from Lee & Cossell, a small law firm in town, and immediately farmed them out to Barnes & Thornburg. The federal court docket show a series of Appearances and Withdrawals that document the transfer of the cases to Barnes & Thornburg attorneys. Additionally, the attorneys involved confirm that it was April of 2008 the cases were transferred, not during the Peterson administration.

This is but one example of the attempt to mislead. The fact is I have repeatedly heard things I knew were inaccurate or misleading. Now we are asked to believe them that Barnes & Thornburg is actually saving the City on legal fees? Sorry but I want full, honest disclosure before I'm going to believe that. And that disclosure needs to include billing records. For too long firms have been allowed to fleece the city for legal services, not just in the hourly rate they charge, but also in the amount of hours they charge for particular tasks.

Part of the article indicated that these huge legal contracts are standard practice for big law firms. (I would certainly disagree that it is standard practice for a law firm to basically walk in and take over an administration, which is the much bigger problem for Mayor Ballard and the subject of another column.) My response is, "So What?" Since when does two wrongs make a right? Why should we Republicans look the other way when fleecing of taxpayers by a law firm is done during a Republican mayoral administration? If another law firm can provide those services more cheaply and with as good or better legal representation (which I assure you is the case), then those cases should go to those law firms.

The suggestion that these big law firms are merely encouraging "civic involvement" is so much nonsense. Here is the truth. What these law firms is doing is taking a portion of the taxpayer money they receive from the City on bloated legal billings and kicking back that money to politicians so they can continue to receive contracts from the politicians. So much for "civic involvement."

What I find most upsetting is Marion County Republican Chairman Tom John's comment condoning the long-standing practice of big law firms receiving large contracts for legal services in return for polticial contributions. With all due respect to Tom John, he needs to look at the 2008 election results for the Marion County offices. If Indianapolis Republicans are going to have any chance of succeeding in 2010, the municipal election of 2011, and beyond, the GOP needs to be the party of reform and good government, not a party that simply endorses the status quo and certainly not the party that puts big law firms ahead of the best interests of the taxpayers. If that is the road we continue on, Republicans have no chance of holding on to the Mayor's Office or control of the City County Council.

"Pay to Play" is not just wrong in Illinois. It is also wrong in Indiana.


Diana Vice said...

Amen!!! It's about time someone said these things. Now, if someone would just do something about the pay to play situation in Indiana. It's morally wrong.

Paul K. Ogden said...

Morals, Diana? We lawyers don't have no stinking "morals!"

Diana Vice said...

I'd say that you are one of the few exceptions when it comes to the oxymoron, "moral lawyer," which reminds me of a joke I heard today.

It's so cold that I saw a lawyer with both hands in his own pockets.

On a related subject: The lawyer community in Indiana should do a better job of policing their own, but I've heard that the disciplinary process is a joke and that politics and cronyism prevail in that flawed system as well. I know of a few lawyers who should be reported, but I'm not sure if it's worth wasting my time to do so if complaints are not taken seriously. I wish you could shed a little light on that subject for the sheeple people who lack understanding when it comes to the legal system and the code of ethics for lawyers.