An analysis to determine the similarities between the modus operandi of the Florida Bar and organized crime utilizing a Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel article on government lawyer legal fees.

The article is from the 1/7/98, electronic edition of the Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Sun-Sentinel by staff writers Jenni Bergal and Jay Weaver.

All of the paragraphs in the newspaper article below are numbered for convenience. I (Bob Allston) have also added my own paragraphs analizing the newspaper article. In order to distinguish mine from those of the newspaper, mine are indented, also independently numbered, and the first paragraph in any series of my paragraphs is preceded with the word "COMMENT".

  1. When a law firm mistakenly billed Broward County $2,500 for a 20-hour phone call, officials paid it without question.

    1. COMMENT: Also, discussed further along in this article is a lawyer's charge of $2,500 FOR 20 HOURS TO REVIEW A LETTER as is the same law firm's charge of $1,350 FOR A 10 HOUR PHONE CALL.

    2. The circumstances surrounding these three bills provides much insight into how closely the modus operandi of the Florida Bar resembles that of organized crime.

    3. To see this lets have a look at how these bills might have been processed. First, it is reasonable to assume that each of these billing transactions was reviewed around ten or more times by many different people:

      1. The lawyer (or lawyers) in the law firm who originated the charge.

      2. The clerk or secretary in the law firm that made out the bill to send to the government.

      3. The government clerk or secretary that recorded the bill in the government books.

      4. The person (sadly-- if any) in government responsible for reviewing and approving bills.

      5. The clerk or secretary in government who made out the checks and saw that they were sent off to the law firms.

      6. The clerk or secretary in the law firms who recorded the incoming payment in the law firm's books.

      7. The partner, bookkeeper or accountant in the law firm who's job it is to review the books, and determine how the money should be apportioned to the various attorneys, overhead, management, operating expenses, etc., in the firm.

      8. The clerk or secretary who credited the portion of the payment going to the lawyer to his account at the firm.

      9. The lawyer reviewing his own monthly account at the firm.

      10. The lawyer reviewing his own bank account.

    4. We should consider as well the possibility that either the law firm's books could be audited or the government records could be audited on either a systematic basis or on a surprise basis or that other people might randomly or systematically request to see these records and how this possibility is dealt with by all of the above people who are letting this through. The newspaper reporters who wrote the story of course fit into this category but it is probably reasonable to assume that their doing so was not anticipated by any of the above people.

    5. All of these people of course knew that these bills were false on their face; for people simply don't make 10 and 20 hour phone calls or normally take 20 hours to review letters. Therefore they knew that completing their respective tasks along the paper trial without either reporting or otherwise seeking to have the matter investigated might well involve them in either legal or ethical questions in their capacities as employees of government or the law firms; concerning the possibility of a serious crime-- fraud as a minimum. As well, one would assume many of these people are simply honest people and would not like to see their government cheated or such a gross mistake made.

    6. This poses the question of how could these bills get through all these people? How is it that nobody apparently noticed these "billing errors" until a few newspaper reporters going through masses of government books, came across them? Gee-- a 20 hour $2,500 phone call??? Gee-- 20 hours and $2,500 to review a letter???

    7. At this point, any reporter worth his ink would be hot on the paper trail; for this is the kind of copy that sells papers-- prominent people doing crooked and scandalous things. Moreover, exposing such corruption gets to the basics of what we would hope every reporter sees as his/her most valuable and necessary contribution to democratic society. Further, I would presume it is in their own community as well.

    8. However, once they confirmed that the lawyers had actually received and kept the money-- and thus completed the fraud, theft or whatever lawyers want to call it-- and thus confirming they were onto serious crime-- crime you and I would go to jail for-- they just dropped the matter like a hot potato in all three cases.

    9. Indeed, out of the 30 (3 times 10) or so people who might have been directly involved along the paper trail such as secretaries, office managers, accountants, bookkeepers, lawyers (except of course obtaining a declaration of innocence from the law firm's leading partner) none are interviewed nor are we told they have even asked any such people about it.
    10. As well, out of all the people who may not have been directly in the paper trail but who are still responsible for this money such as office managers, accountants, lawyers, politicians, etc., in government or the law firms, nothing is said about having asked any of them anything.

    11. As well, they don't appear to have presented these circumstances to any legal experts and asked, dare I say-- is this billing fraud? They don't appear to have presented the question-- dare I say-- to the prosecutor's office?

    12. All we get in all three cases put together, is a blatantly self serving denial quoted above from a senior partner in one of the law firms (which translated into a contemporary form of Sicilian legalese obviously means "keepa you hands off"); and then the entire affair in each case is neatly wrapped up for us in a conspicuously short and uninformative paragraph-- and dropped like a hot potato. Indeed, we don't even get the name of the lawyer billing $2,500 for the 20 hour phone call-- the opening statement in the article.

    13. Here again, I'm not in any way criticizing the reporters. They are going as far as they dare. And indeed this is a most important point-- for in these circumstances we learn just how far the legal establishment is letting them go-- not very far.

    14. Another mystery is why such obviously fraudulent bills were placed in the paper trail to begin with. For, if the firms wanted to bill for another 10 or 20 hours work; whether or not the firms had done the work, it appears that with the chronic indifference to good accounting practices that surfaces throughout this article, they could have simply billed for another 10 or 20 hours office time, with whatever flimsy documentation was required, if any, saying nothing about a phone call or reviewing a letter, and nobody would have, or indeed with these accounting practices, could have, questioned anything. It was only the gross absurdity right on the face of these bills that brought attention to them.

    15. On the other hand, if they were in fact innocent billing errors, the individual lawyers involved, their law firms, and government people certainly knew about it and had plenty of time to identify the error and give the money back, before it was discovered by the reporters.

    16. We don't of course know whether anyone did in fact try to report any of these things; and if they did, what happened to them. Lets hope no one lost their job or had other problems for trying to be good people and reporting these things. Indeed, if my experiences in Lee County are any guide, we scarcely need to speculate on the reason in the event they were silent. With smear campaigns in the press, crooked psychological examinations, fabricated criminal charges, etc. awaiting them, they could well have thought they could lose their jobs or otherwise get into more trouble by making an issue of it than participating in it. Some nasty surprises could be in store for the paper and reporters as well.

    17. And once of course a small number of these incidences transpire, these people in government and the law firms become tainted with possible criminal activity and are thus less and less likely to confront crooked activity of any kind as time goes on, which of course inures to the benefit of these lawyers. And this of course may have played a role in the past; so that these people are afraid to report these current occurrences.

    18. Finally, to place these "billing errors" in context, we might compare them to the robbery of a jewelry store in which some lawyers or anyone else just walk into a jewelry store, pick up a diamond necklace worth $2,500 from the display, tell the clerk that they are stealing it, and then walk out the door with it, unhindered.

    19. Subsequently, a newspaper reporter finds out about it, asks the thief what happened, and the THIEF STATES, "We're going to make mistakes. It's mortifying when you find out. It's just the way it is." And returns the necklace. No one-- store clerk, owner, newspaper reporter, or anyone else makes an issue out of it because either they all fear reprisal from the thieves, politicians or others, or they (with the exception of the reporters) are getting some kind of kick back or favors out of it.

    20. Ken Jenne, whose firm made two of the above "billing errors", is Fort Lauderdale's most prominent lawyer-politician and about the time that this article appeared in the Sun-Sentinel, he was appointed by the governor of Florida to be sheriff of Broward County to fill in for the previous sheriff who died during his elected term. He will hold this position until elections are held in November and has already announced an intention to run for sheriff then.

    21. Thus we have the most powerful LAWYER-POLITICIAN from Florida's second largest county with his hands caught blatantly in the public till, and who as a minimum should be investigated for billing fraud by the prosecutors office, now being appointed by the governor as sheriff. Further, an ARTICLE in the paper, for what its worth, claims the office of sheriff isn't even needed and exists only for patronage purposes.

    22. The articles exposing the billing fraud appeared beginning about January 7, 1998, in the electronic edition of the Fort Lauderdale Sun-/sentinel. The announcement by the governor that Jenne was being appointed to be sheriff was also made around this time. And although there were over twenty articles written about him between January 6, and February 21, I found nothing in any of them about the billing issue. It just disappeared.

    23. Almost certainly the Sun-Sentinel must have been receiving phone calls and letters to the editor about the propriety of appointing someone for sheriff who was involved in something of that nature. Thus, what it appears like to me is that the Sun-Sentinel was doing its best to alert citizens to what Jenne was involved in but once the announcement was made that he would be sheriff, the Sun-Sentinel was afraid of him and dropped the issue. Moreover, most of the subsequent articles are upbeat and present him in a favorable light. I found it all too common in Fort Myers for the press to refuse to address the crooked dealing of prominent government lawyers and politicians, and with this going for him, one would think he would also have little difficulty winning the November election for sheriff.

    24. Clearly, one can now expect billing fraud to be even more rife in Broward county, a part of the intimidation/reward process, than it has been, at least among his lawyer and political cronies. This however, is likely only the tip of the iceberg. According to the paper, Jenne is foregoing an income from his law practice of better than $500,000, for the sheriff's pay of about $124,000.

    25. However, the sheriff's budget is about $250,000,000/yr. And, if there is no one around willing to call a spade a spade with his previous billing fraud, it scarcely bodes well for anyone doing it when he controls the power of the sheriff's office. For of course controlling the sheriff's office lends itself to no end of opportunities for repression, intimidation, rewarding, and all manner of crooked dealing.

    26. Aside from these problems, to be effective a sheriff should be educated and experienced in such areas as criminology and drug addiction, as well as the administration of such a large organization dealing with thousands of employees and a quarter billion dollars a year. The paper says he is interested in drug treatment programs and building a special facility for the mentally ill; which on the face of it sounds good. However whether this is political posturing or the best way to spend the money is something else. Moreover, he should be spending his time studying and implementing the best proven programs and administrative procedures, not preoccupied with building a political empire as the paper says he will be doing.
    27. To sum up, in our comparison of the modus operandi of the legal profession with that of organized crime, I think the foregoing discussion of the three billing transactions establishes the following:

      1. Clearly identifiable criminal activity transpired in government that many lawyers, government officials and employees in and out of government were well aware of and which was either not reported or if reported, suppressed.

      2. It was only discovered because (1), unexpected outside people examined the records and (2), the criminal activity was absurdly blatant and obvious on its face.

      3. Although it was totally obvious on its face, it was not reported or suppressed because those who knew about it and had the moral or legal obligation to report it or otherwise do something about it, were either afraid to do so, or stood to benefit from it.

    28. In summary, these three billing "errors" more than suggest that these government organizations openly facilitate billing fraud from lawyers supported by a system of intimidation and/or reward; as is commonly associated with organized crime.

  2. When the city attorney in Lauderhill charged more than $206,000 for legal services last year, officials had no way of knowing whether he or other lawyers in his firm did the work. And when the Broward Sheriff's Office paid $1.2 million to a law firm last year, checks were cut even though the firm was the only one to verify its lawyers' hourly work.

    1. COMMENT: The practices discussed above are of course gross violations of commonly accepted accounting principles and practice and I am surprised that such a complete lack of accountability is even legal in the public sector. As to legal practice, lawyers are supposed to avoid both impropriety and the appearance of impropriety; something of clearly no concern to this lawyer. Go HERE to review legal ethics requirements.

    2. The fact that both the public sector employer and service provider are willing and able to flout these conventions, if not laws, is even more ominous considering the huge sums of taxpayer money involved and the fact that one such organization is a large county Sheriff's Department; indeed the sheriff's department from the second most populous county in the fourth most populous state. Is this money going directly or indirectly to buy cops? prosecutors? judges? Is it being converted to cash and disappearing? Is it going to numbered accounts in offshore banks?

    3. Indeed, if this relationship between the sheriff and this lawyer is so innocent, why would they want to so blatantly flout both accounting principles and legal ethics principles in this bastion of police powers-- for good or ill? Indeed, the Sheriff's department has over a million dollars just for lawyers, surely they can afford the services of an independent accountant, or at least an in house accountant to keep track of all this money. Where are their accountants? Are they refusing to have anything to do with it although they review other bills? Have they been ordered off the job?

    4. As set forth ELSEWHERE in these articles, this lawyer is a former cop and after going to law school made his reputation defending cops in labor issues. He now presumably defends cops in all areas thus knows all the bent cops and how to use them with this massive amount of unaccounted for taxpayer money if he wants to.

    5. Indeed, this kind of free and easy money can buy a lot of "protection" for corrupt politicians, cops, and lawyers seeking to silence their critics or win elections; should they choose to employ it in such a manner. Bent cops, politicians, and lawyers working together can fabricate bomb threats. They can plant illegal drugs on people. They can fabricate DUIs. They can put people in jail and throw away the keys. They can run smear campaigns in the media. They can find psychologists who will find all kinds of mental problems. They can force people to be defended in court by bent lawyers. They can have cases tried with bent judges. They can destroy people financially. In short they can destroy their critics with little difficulty; as set forth in ANOTHER SECTION of this Web site.

    6. Indeed, Broward county is only one county removed from Lee county where I had my problems and it is known to be a much larger faster paced county than Lee County, being bordered on the South by Dade County (Miami) and Palm Beach County (Palm Beach) on the North.

    7. The bottom line here is that this sheriff and his lawyer are blatantly flouting accountability requirements for this huge sum of public money and one would be prudent to assume there is a reason other than the sheriff doesn't want to be bothered checking on it or he doesn't have the money or people to do it.

    8. Indeed this situation would be the dream of any crime syndicate; vast sums of money coming and going through a big powerful county sheriff's office with no accountability or tracking whatsoever. Think twice before you cross these guys.

    9. And with the newly appointed sheriff, Ken Jenne, having a long history of power brokering as well as having his firm's hands in the public till, such a history of the powerful organization he is taking over would appear to be all too compatible.

  3. These lawyers are members of an elite group that frequent the same clubs, get invitations to political fundraisers and sometimes refer work to one another. They dominate a government legal industry in South Florida that received at least $62.8 million in tax dollars in 1997. If that money were spent differently, it could pay for up to 1,800 new teachers or 1,600 police officers. Yet many of the cities and county agencies that hire these lawyers fail to keep tabs on how the public's money is being spent on legal services.

  4. When it's time to hire and pay lawyers, local governments play by different rules than those they use for architects, engineers or builders. Most of the time, city and county charters don't require law firms to bid for work. Nor do their bills face the same scrutiny as those of other professionals.

  5. South Florida governments tend to use an informal honor system for lawyers, with few checks and balances. In the worst cases, rules are nonexistent, record keeping is sloppy and officials approve bills without careful review.

    1. COMMENT: Here again, the legal profession is placing itself above society's rules that everyone else has to follow. Lawyers don't have to bid on work like everyone else. And then when they get the work they can just run up a fat bill without it being scrutinized like everyone else's bills.

    2. And with such blatant despotism, the door is simply wide open for numerous forms of illegal/unethical dealing, cronyism, favoritism, intimidation, influence peddling, money under the table, buying and selling politicians, etc.; all carried out above and beyond the reach of the law. For instance, in Lee County I was blatantly lied to about the law by a county lawyer in order to favor the interests of certain city hall good old boys. Organized crime could only dream of such a sweet deal.



  7. IN-HOUSE: Lawyers hired as employees by local government. They are paid an annual salary and benefits.

  8. CONTRACT FIRMS: Private lawyers who are employed by outside firms and also serve as attorneys for cities. Cities pay them a set amount each year to do the same thing as in-house lawyers. In addition, they bill an hourly rate for work beyond their retainer.

  9. SPECIALISTS: Outside law firms are often hired case-by-case. Rates range from $100 to $300 an hour for attorneys.


  11. IN-HOUSE: Lawyers attend meetings and provide legal opinions to elected officials and other governmental boards. They also write contracts and deal with personnel problems.

  12. CONTRACT FIRMS: They handle the same work as in-house lawyers, but in addition they do specialty work, such as defending lawsuits and handling employee disputes.

  13. SPECIALISTS: These firms specialize in such fields as litigation, labor negotiations and bond work.

  14. The Sun-Sentinel's examination of legal costs in 49 South Florida cities and county agencies revealed:

  15. Many local governments don't review attorneys' bills to ensure that work is done and charges are accurate. Bills often lack basic information -- who did what work, how long it took and how much it cost. Officials rarely verified the work performed and instead concentrated on whether the charges added up.

  16. For instance, when the firm of Conrad, Scherer & Jenne accidentally billed Miramar 10 hours for a phone call in May about a problem with a developer, city officials approved and paid the $1,350 charge without noticing the error, the newspaper found.

    1. COMMENT: It is worth noting that the above statement calling the billing "accidental" and an "error", is probably an example of libel law suit insurance for the newspaper; for it would appear to be difficult for the paper to know this beyond the obviously dubious claims of innocence by the law firm. In like manner, the statement that city officials didn't notice the "error" is also most likely libel suit insurance; for it is almost certain that people in city government knew about this "billing error", as discussed in previous comments in this article.

  17. Cities and county agencies rarely require private law firms to bid for specialty work such as defending officials against lawsuits. Much is at stake -- at least $20.3 million in services last year.

  18. Some in-house attorneys have a monopoly over clusters of cities or an exclusive deal with one county agency. Sometimes, they not only approve outside firms' bills but their own as well. "It's important to monitor legal bills. We're using taxpayers' money. We don't want to waste it," said Sandra Hudson, who audits law firms' bills for Palm Beach County. "Whether it's a legal bill or buying a piece of equipment, it's the same thing."


  20. Lawyers who work for local government grumble about petty politics and boring meetings. But the pay is decent and they never get stiffed.

  21. They've rarely had to vie for local government business the same way as other professionals. Some critics say it's because many of the public officials who make the laws -- and write government charters -- are lawyers. Others say local politicians are too deferential to the legal establishment, evidenced by the careless way many cities and county agencies review and pay lawyers' bills. The state's top legal official warns that local governments are failing taxpayers if they are not poring over legal bills. Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth said it's the only way governments can get a sense of the quality of the work and can catch costly billing errors.

  22. But even when agencies such as the North Broward Hospital District carefully check lawyers' bills, mistakes slip through. The district paid the firm Conrad, Scherer & Jenne $2,500 when it was accidentally billed for 20 hours to review a letter in October 1996, records show.

  23. "We're going to make mistakes," said Ken Jenne, a partner in the firm. "It's mortifying when you find it. It's just the way it is." This type of billing blunder, uncovered by Sun-Sentinel reporters, appears to be rare. It can occur in the private and public sectors, but when it happens in government, taxpayers -- not shareholders -- foot the bill.


  25. Insurance companies and major corporations typically require law firms' bills to include the date the work was done, the initials of the person who did the work, a narrative describing the type of work, the number of hours spent, the hourly rate, a breakout of expenses and the amount due.

  26. But in the newspaper's review of two major firms' bills, key details were missing from invoices for seven of the 18 cities and agencies they represent.

  27. Sea Ranch Lakes and Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, for example, use Josias, Goren, Cherof, Doody & Ezrol as their town attorneys. They paid the firm $80,264 last year. Neither town receives invoices with billable time or a breakout of which lawyers did what -- just brief summaries of work performed. Bills are reviewed by the town attorneys, then by town officials. "I look at them pretty carefully," said Lauderdale-by-the-Sea Town Manager Bob Baldwin. "It wouldn't matter if they put their hours on the bill or not." In Oakland Park, Donald J. Doody, a Josias, Goren partner who served as city attorney until April, billed the same way.

  28. He also signed off on purchase orders for his firm's payments before they went to the city manager for approval, records show. The firm's attorneys say each city sets its own standards for legal billings, and inconsistencies in billing practices are widespread among South Florida cities and agencies. Some want specifics -- others don't care.

  29. "That's really an issue driven by the client," said Jim Cherof, of Josias, Goren. "Different administrators and administrative staffs have different needs for those numbers. Some elected officials want more detail." But a lack of detail in lawyers' bills raises questions about the type of work being done and who's doing it, say accountants who work for cities in South Florida that require more information. Leanne Williams, senior accountant for the city of West Palm Beach, said imprecise bills make it nearly impossible to tell whether a low-cost paralegal or a highly-paid partner did the work. "Each piece of paper should stand alone. As an accountant, it would drive me nuts," Williams said. "It would be an incomplete invoice. I'd need to know who was working and when."

    1. COMMENT: Here it appears this accountant is going as far as he can to call a spade a spade without getting into libel. And again the question is begged-- who will call a spade a spade ?

  30. Details were missing when Ruden McClosky Smith Schuster & Russell billed the Broward School Board for work on school financing and construction projects. At least five monthly bills, totaling $24,052, were not itemized. Instead, they contained a few brief sentences about the work. Attorneys' names, rates and total hours appeared at the bottom in fine print.

  31. School Board member Lois Wexler demanded to see the invoices at a school board meeting after learning they had been paid. When she saw them, she was alarmed by their vagueness. "I was concerned that the staff went ahead and paid all those bills," Wexler said.

  32. But a Ruden McClosky attorney said school finance officials, who were responsible for monitoring the bills, had never asked for detailed information before May 1997. When they did, the firm revised its format to provide more information.


  34. Sometimes the same firm bills its government clients differently. One client may get lots of detail, the other may get little.

  35. The firm Conrad, Scherer & Jenne, for example, provides comprehensive bills to the tax-assisted North Broward Hospital District because board members require every private law firm to present them that way. "We (the district) made it a policy so no one can run from it," said Jenne, the district's general counsel. "It's a way to get control (over the bills)." Yet the same firm doesn't provide the South Broward Hospital District similar details because it's not required. The firm does medical malpractice work for the district, which generated $268,536 in bills last year, records show.

  36. William Scherer, the firm's managing partner, said providing the information creates extra work and is costly. If a client asks the firm to do it, it will. If it doesn't, the firm won't bother, he said. "We used to never do it for anyone," Scherer added.

  37. A few cities have always insisted on detailed legal bills. Elected officials in Hallandale and Lauderdale Lakes, for instance, scrutinize the bills and expenses themselves. The Hallandale City Commission once rejected a private firm's charges for business lunches during a trial. "In Hallandale, every legal bill is on the agenda," said City Attorney Richard Kane, a long-time city employee. "We've stricken $10 parking charges. We had a lawyer park across the street (from city hall) in an expensive lot. The commissioners said, `No way, Charlie.'"


  39. Broward School Board members were alarmed at the district's high legal bills when they reached $2.5 million in 1996. Board members figured they could gain more control and accountability over spiraling costs by creating a law department at the district's glass headquarters in Fort Lauderdale. They hired attorney Ed Marko, the district's outside general counsel who had provided legal advice to the board since 1968. Marko put together a legal staff of six to work directly for the school board.

  40. Last year, the board's legal costs rose to almost $3.1 million. Most of the increase was attributed to Marko's new department. Diana Wasserman, chairman of the school board's legal services committee, said it's too early to gauge whether the district made the right financial decision to establish its own law department. But she said she tried unsuccessfully to persuade her colleagues to require lawyers to compete for the district's in-house legal business rather than give it to Marko. "We had not reviewed the legal business of the board for 20 years," Wasserman said. "I felt if we were going to do this, we should do it the right way."

    School Board member Abe Fischler said he and other members opposed bidding the work because they thought Marko had expertise and familiarity with the district. "Here we had a person who really knew the system," Fischler said.


  42. Like the Broward School Board, many South Florida counties and large cities have opted to set up in-house legal staff. "It's much more economical and efficient," said Denise Dytrych, Palm Beach County's general counsel, who heads a staff of 56. Dytrych's department, which spent $5.17 million on legal costs last year, is similar to those in Broward and Dade counties. They are set up like large law firms. Dade's legal department, with a staff of 123, spent $17.75 million on legal costs. Broward's, with a staff of 79, spent $8.3 million. Of those total costs, the three counties still spent at least 20 percent of their legal costs on outside lawyers. Many South Florida cities insist it's cheaper to hire private firms than pay in-house attorneys' benefits, pensions and other expenses. Some think private firms can provide better expertise and more resources.

  43. Five of seven cities in south Palm Beach County and 22 of 28 in Broward have hired private firms to act as city attorneys. But that doesn't necessarily control legal costs. Cities pay these firms a flat monthly retainer for basic work such as attending meetings and giving legal opinions. Cities shell out extra -- from $125 to $150 an hour -- for work that doesn't fall under the retainer, such as land-use disputes and employee discrimination cases.

  44. A handful of firms charge hourly rates for attending planning and zoning or code enforcement board meetings, in addition to their retainers. Most firms generate bigger bills for handling lawsuits, employee disputes, ethics matters and other specialty work.

  45. Take the growing city of Plantation. Its legal costs grew from $772,597 in 1995 to $918,401 last year -- a 19 percent jump. The increase went mostly to Plantation City Attorney Donald J. Lunny Jr.'s law firm. It was paid $658,569 last year -- 26 percent more than in 1995.

  46. "The city of Plantation has been sued a lot because of its conservative approach (to development disputes)," Lunny said. "As a result, its legal fees are higher than a city willing to settle." But for a handful of cities, particularly those facing fewer lawsuits, turning to private city attorneys can be a relative bargain. Lauderdale Lakes City Attorney James Brady, a partner in a private firm, was paid $72,147 by the city last year. That was $23,322 less than he made in 1995.

  47. "The candid reason is that I bill a real 60-minute hour. I bill by the clock," said Brady, whose bills account for most of the city's legal costs. "I work for my client. We try to be very efficient. If I can do something in an hour, I don't add seven more hours to my bill. You don't need 14 associates typing Hamlet."

    1. COMMENT: In saying he bills for a real 60 minute hour and if he can do something in an hour he doesn't add seven more hours to the bill, this lawyer clearly doesn't have a very high opinion of billing practices in his profession.


  49. Sometimes local governments decide they need the best advice their money can buy. So they hire elite firms such as labor specialists Muller, Mintz, Kornreich, Caldwell & Casey, a Miami-based firm that earned more than $1 million dollars from 14 local government agencies last year.

  50. The firm's costly, clients say, but worth the money. Jim Bramnick, the firm's administrative partner, said government is getting a break from firms like his. While they bill government about $125 an hour, they often charge corporate clients up to twice as much.

  51. And bills are piling up all over South Florida due to the recent surge in federal discrimination complaints and labor lawsuits, city officials say. "The labor portion, particularly police and fire, has really gotten out of hand," said Davie's Finance Director Chris Wallace. "It's one legal battle after another."

  52. City officials worried about losing costly lawsuits look for top-notch talent to fight their battles, but they usually do it without competitive bidding. Sometimes, their choices are limited because few area firms practice a certain type of law. Cities also come to rely on the same firms they've used for years.

  53. But that logic may not be cost-efficient. "We bid services virtually across the board, but we don't do it with lawyers," said Hillsborough County Commissioner Joe Chillura, an advocate of competitive bidding for lawyers. "That should tell you something. It's a patronage process." And it's one that some critics consider too cozy for the public good.

  54. "These hirings are typically the result of the famous good-old-boy network," said Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, a Washington, D.C.-based watchdog group. "These are people who used to work with each other. Or who belong to the same country club. Or who contribute to campaigns. "The bottom line is that taxpayers' interests are not being served."

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