Monday, December 8, 2008

Fleecing of Indianapolis Taxpayers by Big Law Firms

On Friday, I spoke at a seminar at the law school on ethics. One of the topics I spoke about was how privatization has led to a new type of patronage, vendors who are seeking contracts contributing money to politicians who then steer business to the vendor. No place is this a bigger problem in the City of Indianapolis than the contracting out of legal services to local law firms.

The game works like this. Big Law Firm seeking city/county legal work contribute money to Grateful Candidate. In return, Grateful Candidate, once in office, kicks back money in the form of city/county legal work to Big Law Firm. Big Law Firm the runs up outrageous bills on Joe and Jill Taxpayer. Grateful Candidate, now Grateful Elected Official, does not object to the billing because Big Law Firm will kick back thousands of dollars in taxpayer money Big Law Firm received to Grateful Elected Official in the form of yet more campaign contributions.

Another game is for Big Law Firm to hire attorneys who have achieved significant positions in elected office, positions that are most often part-time. Those attorneys, who have the expertise relating to legal billing, would be ideal candidates to criticize the billing practices of Big Law Firm. However, now they are on the dole of Big Law Firm and in no position to criticize what Big Law Firm is doing to Joe and Jill Taxpayer.

This is a win-win-lose situation. Grateful Candidate/Elected Official is a winner. Big Law Firm is a winner. Joe and Jill Taxpayer is the loser. There is nobody standing up for taxpayers as they are being fleeced by the big law firms in this city.

On Saturday, I was on a radio program. The host, who had supported Mayor Greg Ballard during the 2007 election, said she had given up hope on him and apologized for supporting him. I countered saying that Mayor Ballard had plenty of time to correct course. Mayor Ballard was elected into an ideal situation. He owed virtually no one for his election. The Mayor was and is in a position to stop Big Law Firm fleecing of taxpayers that has been going on for the last several Democrat and Republican administrations. While Mayor Ballard made a mistake early on by allowing his transition and the first year of his administration to be taken over by partners of a Big Law Firm, Barnes and Thornburg, I think Mayor Ballard is perfectly capable of taking his administration back and pursuing a more populist reform agenda that includes standing up to the dominance and fleecing of taxpayers by local law firms.

Part of that populist, reform agenda should include the support of a requirement by the Mayor and the Council that any law firm contracting with the city or county official have their contracts put on-line for review. Further, the actual bills submitted by the law firms need to be made public and scrutinized by an outside body, not just elected officials beholden to the law firm which is kicking back money to the politicians. While attorney billing records sent to the city for payment are public record, the law firms that submit them are very secretive about such records. When reporters request them, the law firms will redact virtually everything in the record, claiming that the firm must do so because of "attorney-client" privilege." While that usually is a bogus excuse for most redactions and merely a ruse to try to cover up outrageous billing for services, the problem can easily be gotten around by using "coding" - the requirement that billing contain a code for each service that is provided. Many big companies require their private counsel submit bills this way and will only pay so much for particular services. The City should require the same from private law firms which are billing and in many if not most cases, bilking the taxpayer.

Again, Mayor Ballard is far from finished. He has ample time to turn away from the politics of old and pursue a populist, reform agenda that puts Joe and Jill Taxpayer ahead of Big Law Firm. I certainly wish him well these next three years.


varangianguard said...

Actually, I'm surprised that B-T hasn't put out feelers to see if you were interested in employment with them.

melyssa said...

That radio talk show host has also alienated almost every friend she has.

In addition she was a PAID supporter/campaigner for Ballard. Most of us who worked to help Ballard get elected gave him money to help and would never have dreamed of taking money for the job.

That radio host also received an appointment by Mayor Ballard as an administrative law judge.

And that same administrative law judge hired a friend of mine to work at her house, smoked pot with him, and then refused to pay him after nearly three months of work.

I don't put too much stock in what she says. In fact, I seriously question the content of her character, as do many other people.