by Pam Zubeck
In the course of our research of the Colorado Springs City Attorney's Office, we sought payments made to outside legal counsel over the last several years. This was a tall order, and it took the city quite a while to provide it.
We found that outside legal bills vary from year to year, based on what's going on in any given area of city government.
For example, Memorial Health System's legal bills went from $1.26 million in 2010 to $2.85 million last year, due largely to all the legal work needed to effectuate the 40-year lease of the city-owned system to the University of Colorado Health. For example, one firm, Fulbright and Jaworski, was paid $1.55 million for work it did on the lease and associated issues.
Meantime, Colorado Springs Utilities' legal bills have declined from nearly $3 million in 2010, when the enterprise was in the throes of permit approvals and land acquisition procedures for the Southern Delivery System, to $1.8 million last year.
Legal fees outside of city enterprises — those paid with the city's tax-supported general fund — increased by roughly 13 percent from 2010 to 2012. Last year, they totaled $722,102.
Here are the totals we came up with based on the documents provided by the city:
2010: $4.86 million
2011: $5.5 million
2012: $5.36 million
Total: $15.72 million
City Attorney Chris Melcher notes in an e-mail, "The Office of the City Attorney finished 2012 under budget by $151,000 and returned those funds to the General Fund."
Looking through the billings, it becomes clear that some firms have done quite well following Mayor Steve Bach's taking office in June 2011.
Hogan Lovells, the firm Bach used during his campaign, wasn't even on the city's list of outside law firms in 2010. But in 2011, it was paid $24,287, and last year it banked $484,727 in city business. Most of those fees were paid from the general fund ($293,418), although Hogan Lovells also was paid by Utilities ($17,832) and Memorial ($173,477).
Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, which has a Denver office and has several retention agreements with the city, had been paid only $14,044 through the end of 2012, but its "not to exceed" contract figures exceed $250,000.
WilmerHale of Washington, D.C., also has a retention agreement with a "not to exceed" figure of $937,000 to handle a lawsuit against the city over Melcher's early payoff of Memorial Hospital bonds, and a federal lawsuit over the panhandling ordinance. It was paid nothing in 2012, according to the records we were given.
As we reported here, Melcher used to work for those two firms years ago.
Another firm, Sidley Austin, was hired by Melcher to defend Utilities against a Sierra Club lawsuit yet to be filed. The retention agreement shows a "not to exceed" compensation figure of $1 million. No fees were paid in 2012, according the billing records.
All those records, along with several e-mail threads, public legal opinions Melcher's issued since he started with the city in October 2011, and 1,031 pages of legal retention agreements from 2011, 2012 and 2013, would have carried a hefty price tag if they had been subject to new fees the city enacted in mid-February for Colorado Open Records requests. As we were reminded by the city in an e-mail, "For future reference, this CORA request alone took combined City staff time of 47.5 hours. This CORA request would have had a final bill of $919.37 under the new fee system."