Wednesday, February 6, 2013

City Attorney's Office Refuses To Disclose Legal Fees on Jeff Baker Lawsuit

Last month, I did a public records request to find out how much in legal fees the Jeff Baker lawsuit has cost Oakland so far.  Since the lawsuit was filed in March, 2012, I would have expected to receive 10 months of (redacted) legal bills.  Instead, I got two.  And for those two months, the total amount billed was nearly $42,000.  Yup, that's right, $42,000 in legal fees for two months of legal services on a lawsuit that should have been been thrown out at the outset.  And Oakland is refusing to provide any additional information.

What's strange about the bills is that one is for services through June 30 ($27,040) and the other is for services through July 31 ($14,815).  I would have expected to see bills for April and May, as well as the months thereafter.  But none were produced.  What was also strange about the bills was that one invoice was issued on October 29, 2012, the other on November 5, 2012.  That's only a week apart, and months after the services were incurred.

As an employment lawyer who works for a law firm, not unlike the law firm representing the City in the Jeff Baker lawsuit (Sheppard Mullin), I know how law firms bill.  They bill promptly, and they bill every month.  They don't sit on billings and wait six months to send out an invoice.  They don't forget to bill for two months.  That just doesn't happen.  So if a law firm performs services in June, the client gets the invoice in July, for the services performed in June.  That's how it works.  It is simply not believable that in January, 2013, the City can legitimately claim it has only two months worth of invoices.

In order to clarify the issues, I advised the City, and asked for the dates of the billings, to see if perhaps the bills covered more than one month (which would be strange).  The dates of the billing should not be attorney-client privileged information.  But the City is refusing to provide this most basic, non-confidential information, claiming "attorney work product."  A commitment to transparency?  I think not.

Notably, a client cannot adequately supervise the legal work being performed unless bills are received and reviewed promptly.  For example, if the law firm has billed $100,000 on this case, but the City is only aware of $42,000 in billings, because that's all they've been invoiced so far, the City Attorney's office is not doing its job.  A supervising attorney should be monitoring both the work being done on the case and the bills monthly, in order to ensure the case is being handled correctly.  This clearly isn't happening here.  I've asked to speak to the supervising attorney about the matter, and have gotten no response.  In fact, nobody has even told me who the supervising attorney is.  Maybe because there is none?

Once again, Oakland demonstrates its lack of transparency, ineptitude, and disinterest in making any improvements.

1 comment:

  1. An attorney is a professional person authorized to practice law, conduct lawsuits or give legal advice.

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