Monday, July 23, 2001

Law firm bills county $173K

3 months of work on stadium overruns cost taxpayers

By Dan Klepal
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The law firm hired by Hamilton County to recover some of the $51 million in overruns at Paul Brown Stadium has handed taxpayers a $173,000 bill for its work between January and March. And that's just the beginning.

        The Indianapolis firm continues to work on the case at $240 per hour, but hasn't billed the county for any of that work since March 31. It is unknown how much in legal fees has been rung up in the past 3 1/2 months.

        Hamilton County hired the Ice Miller firm in December, and told it to investigate the overruns and negotiate with stadium construction managers in an attempt to get some of the money back. The firm was hired after county commissioners discussed the issue in a closed-door executive session.

        Bills sent to the county were obtained by the Enquirer through a public records request.

        There is no time frame specified in Ice Miller's contract saying when it has to finish its work.

        While the firm is doing work specified in its contract, county commissioners are concerned because they haven't received an update on the status of the case, or whether any recovery is even possible.

        “I'm shocked that $173,000 has been spent on legal fees through March alone, and (we've had) not one briefing on the magnitude or product of that much work,” Commissioner Todd Portune said.

        Ice Miller was hired before Mr. Portune became commissioner.

        No one from Ice Miller could be reached for comment over the weekend.

        But the bills show Ice Miller lawyers have spent hundreds of hours reviewing construction documents, meeting with county officials and talking to construction managers who built Paul Brown Stadium, which opened in August.

        Commissioner Tom Neyer, who was one of the commissioners who voted to hire Ice Miller, said he still supports the hiring. But he wants an update, too.

        “I continue to support the course we have adopted, but $173,000 does seem like a pretty healthy chunk without so much as an update,” Mr. Neyer said. “Even if it is only an interim update, I think it's time for some initial impressions from counsel, including a projected time to get some closure.”

        Commission President John Dowlin is out of town and couldn't be reached for comment Sunday.

        Each invoice submitted by the law firm includes a sentence about the work done, along with the amount of time spent on the task.

        For example, a two-day trip to Cincinnati, Jan. 16-17, by three Ice Miller lawyers cost taxpayers almost $17,000.

        The Jan. 16 invoices read: “Travel to Cincinnati while stra tegizing approach; tour stadium; meeting with client representatives regarding issues.” One attorney billed 13 hours for the work; a second billed 12.2 hours; and a third billed 11.7 hours. Total: $8,856.

        It was a busy day on Jan. 17, as well: “Review records of (construction manager); meeting with (project manager) representative; meeting with client, return to Indianapolis.”

        Again, the hours billed by each attorney are different — one worked 10.5 hours; the second 11.2 hours; and the third 12 hours. Total for the day: $8,088.

        Hamilton County Administrator Dave Krings said the county prosecutor's office reviews all of the bills before they're paid.

        “I have to assume this is work necessary for them to draw conclusions as to the legitimacy of $450 million in expenditures,” Mr. Krings said, referring to the final cost of the stadium.

        “When put in that context, it's not an unreasonable amount of money,” he said.

        Mr. Portune isn't so sure. He wants Hamilton County Auditor Dusty Rhodes to review the invoices. It is unknown when the law firm will bill taxpayers for its more recent work.


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