The recent public debacle between city council and the city attorney’s office led me to file open records requests asking for information for amounts paid to outside law firms for legal work for the city. As expected, the largest expenditure paid by the taxpayers to outside law firms involves the issue regarding emails and open records requests. According to the information the city provided me, the city has spent a total of $135,002.24 to litigate the City of El Paso vs. Greg Abbott matter, through October 10, 2014.
The largest beneficiary of the taxpayers’ monies in regards to the ongoing email case is the Denton Navarro Rocha Bernal Hyde & Zech law firm. They received the full $135,002.24 to litigate the email issue. However, this made me wonder how much the city is paying outside law firms to litigate other matters.
As you know, it is near impossible to get a clear picture of the city’s litigation matters because the city routinely denies releasing litigation information because of client-attorney privilege. This basically gives them carte-blanche to keep most litigation outside of the reach of open records requests.
Last month I filed three open records requests asking for the total amounts paid to outside law firms by the city. Two of the requests asked for payments to outside law firms from January 1, 2010 through October 10, 2014. The first asked for payments specifically paid to the Denton Navarro Rocha Bernal Hyde & Zech law firm and the other asked for total amounts paid to any outside law firm. The last request asked for the total amounts paid specifically for the City of El Paso vs. Greg Abbott case.
For brevity sake, I am going to use “Denton” when writing about the Denton Navarro Rocha Bernal Hyde & Zech law firm. As you already know, “Denton” was paid $135,002.34 for the email issue. The payments covered the period of May 13, 2013 through September 26, 2014.
From January 1, 2010 through October 10, 2014, “Denton” was paid a total of $546,863.94. Other matters “Denton” was paid to litigate include “City of EP Ethics Issue,” “Voter Initiative” and “Salazar” et al for FY2013. There were seven legal matters listed for FY2013 totaling $258,065.05 in legal fees paid to “Denton.” In FY2014, the law firm was paid $278,913.17 for eight legal matters. Among them were the Fire and Police departments’ “negotiations.”
For FY2015, my open records requests state that for two matters; “El Paso v AG” and “R Saenz v City,” the “Denton” law firm was paid $9,885.72.
There were a total of thirty-eight law firms, or attorneys that were paid $6,532,911.91 from January 1, 2010 through October 10, 2014 to litigate on behalf of the city. This amount includes the fees for the email issue. Of these, ten firms were paid more than $100,000 by the city.
Two of the law firms; Ray Valdez McChristian & Jeans PC and Mounce Green Myers Safi & Galatzan took the bulk of the payments; 27% and 26% respectively. The “Denton” law firm came in at third place with 7% of the total amounts paid out.
The balance of the $6 million was paid to twenty-eight firms. The payments ranged from $275 to Patricia Hernandez to a high of $79,750.48 paid to Kemp Smith LLP, not including those paid over $100,000. Ten lawyers or their firms were paid less than $10,000 during this period. Of the 38 law firms listed on the documents released to me, one stood out because it was labelled “El Paso Water Utilities.” I am not sure if the water utility was paid because it has a legal division that litigated on behalf of the city, because it was reimbursed for litigation it incurred on behalf of the city or because it was inadvertently added to the list that was released to me. They were paid $11,483.29.