Wednesday, July 31, 2002

Legal fees top $743,000 for refund in stadium overruns




By Dan Klepal, dklepal@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The tab for legal work relating to Hamilton County's attempt to recover some of the $51 million in overruns at Paul Brown Stadium is now more than $743,000 — still without any word about how much county taxpayers might get back or a recommended course of action.

        That direction might be provided today when attorneys from the Indianapolis law firm Ice Miller meet with county commissioners in a closed-door session.

        The legal bill took a huge leap last week when a new invoice for $200,000 was submitted to the county for legal work done frombetween January and to May. Accompanying that bill were two old bills — in excess of $80,000 each — for legal work performed in 2001 that had never been paid.

        Hamilton County commissioners expressed concern over the bills that one county administrator said “fell through the cracks.”

        “How much this firm has been paid and what we have to show for it has been an issue with me from the beginning,” Commissioner Todd Portune said. “This only underscores that concern. We better see some specific recommended courses of action with expectations of significant return. We should have been given answers long ago.”

        Commissioner Tom Neyer called the misplaced bills “puzzling.”

        “I don't have enough information to judge it,” Mr. Neyer said. “I think it's obviously puzzling that invoices would be paid 12 months in arrears. Those are questions I'll be asking” today.

        Ice Miller has at least 12 attorneys working on the case, the majority of whom make $240 per hour.

        They are paid full rate (plus expenses) when they drive to Cincinnati and back to Indianapolis for meetings.

        The latest three invoices submitted for payment show attorneys have worked more than 1,700 hours on the issue.

        All the Ice Miller invoices are routed through the Hamilton County Prosecutor's Office. But no one at the prosecutor's office could explain why $165,000 in legal bills sat unpaid for nearly a year.

        “Those older invoices, Ice Miller had inquired why they were not paid,” Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Roger Friedman said. “They went to somebody in the county administration's office, but they did not have copies of them. Nor did we have them here, because we had not kept a copy.”

        County Auditor Dusty Rhodes, who has long called the hiring of Ice Miller “window dressing,” said he's concerned about the billing practices.

        Mr. Rhodes questioned several of the items on the law firm's first invoice before paying that bill.

       



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