We’re Not Going to Take It (Your Legal Fees)

A generation ago, there was a singer named Dee Snider who recorded a hit song:  “We’re Not Going to Take It.”  The premise of the song was that common people — okay, common people in makeup and long hair — were going to overthrow the establishment.

That brings us to the news that the lawyers representing the Executive Office have billed the Virginia taxpayer over $550,000 over the past six months.  No word on whether anyone in Richmond was stupid enough to actually pay this bill.

Let’s re-run the story:  the Executive Branch and all administrative agencies are typically represented by the Attorney General.  This spring, the AG’s office recused itself because of the link between Ken Cuccinelli and Star Scientific.  He appointed a private law firm to represent “the Office” in the matter of ongoing criminal investigations of the McDonnell family, as well as the criminal charges against their cook (which were since dismissed).

Now, it’s not immediately clear what advice was needed.  You can’t indict a Governor’s office, or sue it for damages.  Nor were there any state secrets at stake, unless you count the state of cuisine at the Mansion.  Nevertheless, the lawyers started billing — without any client or any apparent oversight.

Six months later, there is still no legal claim against the Executive Office.  There is no trial and no appeal.  But two separate law firms are seeking $550,000 in legal fees.  What the heck?

(Editor’s note:  I both send out and review legal invoices for a living.  To put things in perspective, I can prepare, argue and appeal a major civil trial for $100k or less.  I’ve never heard of a client paying a half-million in litigation fees, without any pleadings being filed.  That is an absurdity). 

This is unacceptable.  The invoices should be rejected, or subject to recoupment.  Meanwhile, a committee should be established of local citizens to evaluate the “reasonableness” of the fees in light of the services, if any, that have been provided.  (If the firms filed suit to recover their invoices, they would need to prove reasonableness before a jury, likely in Richmond City).

This should never happen again.  Any future AG should be barred from hiring a private firm as outside counsel, unless that counsel agrees AHEAD OF TIME to a cap on its legal fees.   (No more unlimited billing of hours on self-appointed “tasks”).  Furthermore, the legal fees must be reviewed by a civilian panel to decide their appropriateness. 

Better yet, the AG’s office should esablish a partnership with a county attorney’s office, who can supply legal talent at a fractional cost, in order to deal with any conflicts of interest.  Hiring a K Street law firm at $450/hour should be the last option.  Or no option at all.

Unfortunately, we have a lame-duck AG who has not yet ended this travesty.  Nor have either of the AG-elects taken a stand.  The Assembly needs to.  This is our taxpayers’ money. 

Let’s protect it.

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