Friday, January 18, 2002
Legal bills mount for federal inquiry
$500,000 already paid to Martin's D.C. firm
By Dan Horn
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Cincinnati paid nearly $500,000 last year in legal bills related to the federal investigation of the city's police department.
The bills already $300,000 more than City Council originally approved are expected to grow as the investigation continues into this year.
Most city leaders say they are satisfied with the work the money is buying from William Billy Martin and his Washington, D.C., law firm.
They say top-notch legal representation is crucial because the investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice could lead to expensive, long-term reforms in the police department.
But other city officials are beginning to worry about the mounting legal bills.
Because so much of Mr. Martin's work goes on out of the public eye, it's often unclear exactly what the city and its taxpayers are getting for their money.
I'm unhappy about it, said Councilwoman Minette Cooper, who was chairwoman of council's finance committee when Mr. Martin was hired. I'd be interested to know what else he anticipates he needs to do.
Mr. Martin's bills reflect his own work, as well as the work of his team of five lawyers, a support staff and outside experts. He charges the city about $200 an hour, half his usual fee.
Some of the bills are for work on a settlement of a racial profiling lawsuit against police. Most, however, are related to the Justice Department probe.
Ms. Cooper said she wants Mr. Martin to meet with council soon to discuss his legal expenses and how much longer his services may be needed.
Recent developments suggest the pace of the Justice Department investigation may be quickening.
Justice officials issued a preliminary report two months ago that found some serious problems in the police department. City officials say they will formally respond to those findings by the end of January.
Mayor Charlie Luken, who requested the federal investigation after last April's riots, has said he hopes the probe will be over by this April.
Mr. Martin would not discuss his fees or the investigation, but he recently spoke to some council members about the investigation.
He said they're getting close (to a resolution), said Councilman Paul Booth.
But that could still be months away. And until the case is over, Mr. Martin's legal bills will continue to grow.
It's a little concerning, Mr. Booth said of the bills, which so far total $495,000.
Mr. Luken said the money is well spent. He and others have described Mr. Martin as a respected, intelligent Washington insider who will fight for Cincinnati's best interests.
The former Justice Department lawyer knows his way around Washington and understands how police departments work. Perhaps most important, he understands how the Justice Department works.
His service to the city has been invaluable, Mr. Luken said. The investigation required us to get some special help, and I think he has served us very well.
Mr. Martin's main job is to conduct his own review of Cincinnati police while negotiating with Justice over possible reforms in the department.
City officials hope he helps Cincinnati avoid the expense and animosity that other cities have experienced during similar investigations.
So far, Cincinnati seems to have fared well. Federal investigators have repeatedly described their relationship with Mr. Martin and the city as cooperative.
That's a far cry from the Justice Department's relationship with several other cities.
In Pittsburgh, an investigation led to a court-supervised agreement that forced massive changes in the police department. And in Columbus, city attorneys have spent two years in court fighting similar changes.
Neither of those cities hired an experienced outside attorney like Mr. Martin.
Going outside was never really an option, said Susan Malie, an assistant city solicitor in Pittsburgh. It's really not worth it.
But even with no outside counsel, legal expenses can be high. Columbus has spent $1.4 million over the past two years and is not close to resolving its dispute with the Justice Department.
That's why Mr. Luken sees Mr. Martin's legal bills as a good investment. If Cincinnati can resolve the matter without a long, expensive court fight, then Mr. Martin will have done his job.
Neither the city nor the Justice Department would discuss what kind of agreement might end the investigation.
City officials, though, clearly want it to end soon.
I'm looking forward to a final report, Mr. Booth said.
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