EVEN AT SHERIFF'S OFFICE, OVERSIGHT LACKING
Over a million dollars a year is going through the Fort Lauderdale,
Florida Sheriff's Office to one law firm without any accounting or
monitoring whatsoever. Where is this money going?
An article in the 1/7/98 electronic edition of the Fort Lauderdale,
Florida, Sun-sentinel by staff writer Jay Weaver.
- In a cutthroat legal world where attorneys stoop to radio, television
and newspaper advertising for clients, Charles T. Whitelock is one lucky
- Since 1993, he and his Fort Lauderdale law firm have collected more
than $5 million in fees from their biggest client -- the Broward Sheriff's
- And here's the sweetest part of the deal: Whitelock and his associates
are the only ones who check if the firm's time billed to BSO jibes with
work done for the agency. A key BSO administrator who signs off on the
firm's bills before payment says he just makes sure work hours and charges
add up correctly. He acknowledges that BSO management has a scant
understanding of what those thousands of hours of work are for. "I have
never asked Mr. Whitelock or any of his attorneys to show me case files
to perform some type of quality control of his bills. That's not my
function," said Dale Adams, executive assistant to BSO's chief of staff,
who checks the bills before submitting them to the agency's finance
division for payment. "As far as I know, it's an honor system."
- Whitelock, however, doesn't see it that way. He says BSO officials
occasionally question his firm's charges and he revises them. Whitelock
seemed incredulous over Adams' comments. "If they don't know about their
cases, who would know about them?" said Whitelock, who has an office in
the sheriff's office but is not an employee. "The lawyers (in my firm)
interact with BSO all day long."
- The agency's apparent lack of oversight is bad policy that could leave
room for overbilling, says Florida Taxwatch, a Tallahassee-based group
that keeps an eye on public spending.
- "These checks and balances are essential to make sure the work
performed is properly billed," said Dominic Calabro, the group's
president. "As it is now, no verification exists to ensure that when
they're billed 450 hours a month (by Whitelock's firm), the sheriff's
office has received the benefit and the taxpayer has received the benefit
of that work."
- Broward County Auditor Norman Thabit agreed. "The oversight of that
office is deficient," he said. "It's too much money not to have someone
independent go in and watch over it." But Adams said a BSO system of
checks and balances has never existed because of Whitelock's close
relationship with Sheriff Ron Cochran, who died of cancer in September.
Whitelock, a former policeman-turned-attorney made his reputation
defending cops in labor cases.
- Whitelock, his family and his law partners were among Cochran's
biggest political supporters in his successful bid for sheriff in 1992 and
again in 1996.
- Cochran cleaned the house left behind by former Sheriff Nick Navarro,
trimming about 70 BSO employees and ending his policy of dishing out
litigation and other legal services to a variety of lawyers. Cochran's
supporters, including Whitelock, described the policy as a patronage
system that rewarded attorneys who threw their political support behind
- Navarro said that during his two terms as sheriff, he primarily used
three in-house attorneys and farmed out other work, mostly confiscation
cases, to other lawyers. He also said he used the Florida Sheriff's
Association for liability insurance cases. Navarro said Whitelock's
criticism of his legal department is a broken record of lies.
- "There is one man over there (at BSO) who has become a millionaire and
who has been allowed to do this with total impunity," Navarro said. "I'm
a taxpayer and I resent it." Ott Cefkin, a BSO spokesman who supported
Cochran's campaigns for sheriff, defended his late boss' decision to use
only Whitelock. "The whole history of this agency was everything (legal)
went outside," Cefkin said. "Ron asked why. Private industry doesn't work
that way. So he brought everything inside (under Whitelock). Is there more
continuity? Yes. Is it more cost-effective? Yes."
- In the past fiscal year, Whitelock and his law firm collected legal
fees totaling $1.2 million from BSO, according to records. Navarro's
legal services cost at least a half million dollars more during 1992, his
last year as sheriff, Whitelock estimated. But BSO's finance department
said there is no way to verify the information because of incomplete
- When Cochran took over at BSO, Whitelock and his law firm --
Whitelock, Soloff, Rodriguez & Williams -- received two generous contracts
from BSO. (His firm is now called Whitelock & Williams.) Whitelock's
in-house contract pays him and his legal staff of four attorneys at BSO a
monthly retainer of $39,580 -- totaling almost $475,000 annually. The
sheriff's office also foots the bill for four executive secretaries, one
administrative secretary and a judicial docket clerk.
- The Whitelock firm's legal work includes advising the sheriff and his
management team, representing the sheriff in lawsuits and other court
issues, preparing contracts and leases, and handling all confiscation and
forefeiture litigation. The sheriff's office operates the county jails and
oversees public safety in Broward's unincorporated areas and six cities.
Whitelock's second contract with BSO empowers his law firm to handle all
other litigation, including personnel and labor disputes, that had been
referred to various attorneys before Cochran became sheriff.
- The firm's hourly rate for those services is $125. This contract has
generated nearly $655,000 in legal fees and expenses for Whitelock's firm
during fiscal 1997. Those are the invoices that face little scrutiny by
- The only BSO legal work not controlled by Whitelock's firm is
liability insurance cases, handled by the sheriff's risk management
division. But even there, Whitelock's firm picked up numerous cases this
past year, generating $73,074.
- Only a handful of other private lawyers got any referral business
directly from Whitelock during the past year, earning a few thousand
dollars in fees.
- For the foreseeable future, it doesn't appear Whitelock will be
sharing much more of the sheriff's legal largess with any other firms.
One month before Cochran underwent brain surgery last February, he and
Whitelock agreed to extend his contracts for another four years -- not for
two years, as originally stipulated.
- Unless the winner of a special sheriff's election next November tries
to break that extended agreement, Whitelock will continue representing BSO
almost exclusively through the year 2000.
- Sun-Sentinel Copyright (c) 1998, Sun-Sentinel Company and South
Florida Interactive, Inc.
This Web page is one in a SERIES OF WEB
PAGES examining the modus operandi of the Florida Bar.
The home page of this Web site is entitled LEGAL
REFORM THROUGH TRANSFORMING THE DISCIPLINE OF LAW INTO A SCIENCE