Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

Council Blasts Extra Cost For Morales’ Lawsuit

City Attorney Spencer knew outside counsel handling case exceeded authorized cost.

By - Nov 16th, 2021 12:33 pm

Gavel. (Public Domain).

The revelation that Cade Law Group exceeded its authorized budget by nearly 50% in serving as the city’s outside counsel on the Alfonso Morales‘ lawsuit isn’t sitting well with some members of the Common Council. All the more so because the City Attorney’s Office knew that for months and is only asking for the funding after the work was completed.

City Attorney Tearman Spencer secured council approval in April to hire Cade with an authorized maximum of $40,000. The council approved a $627,000 settlement with the former police chief in July. But the City Attorney’s Office is now seeking authorization to pay Cade up to $18,726.63 more and says that the firm already completed approximately $16,000 worth of additional work.

The Judiciary & Legislation Committee is recommending, on a 3-2 vote, that the city not pay Cade for the extra work.

Deputy City Attorney Robin Pederson told the committee on Monday that the City Attorney’s Office was aware Cade was likely to go over its cap in July.

“Wouldn’t it have been appropriate to bring that to this committee?” asked Alderman Robert Bauman.

“Yeah, I can concur and acknowledge up front that that is the case,” said Pederson. “I think it is just a matter of things moving very quickly and that the amount was not to be excessively high and the focus was to be on getting the settlement done.”

“I can appreciate that the matter did not come back before the council and I don’t think I have anything I can offer that is a good excuse and for me it’s a lesson learned,” said Spencer’s special deputy and chief of staff Celia Jackson. She joined the department after Cade was hired.

But Ald. Michael Murphy raised further concern. “I feel that the work that resulted in the settlement was the work of the two council members,” said Murphy, of Common Council President Cavalier Johnson and Judiciary & Legislation chair Ashanti Hamilton.

Hamilton defended Cade principal Nathaniel Cade. “I hope this wouldn’t be a reflection on his contribution to this process,” said Hamilton. “I feel that was some very specific expertise and understanding.”

The alderman, who holds a law license, credited Cade with assembling information on pension costs related to the suit that improved the city’s negotiating leverage.

“I would not underestimate his contribution to the process,” said Hamilton.

Cade himself was to be paid $350 per hour in six-minute increments and another firm attorney, Carlos Pastrana, $250 per hour.

Pederson said Cade could sue the city for breach of contract if he wasn’t paid.

“Would that cause of action be for more than he is currently asking for?” asked Alderwoman Milele A. Coggs.

“Potentially, yes,” said Pederson.

But Bauman noted that Cade’s ability to sue for attorney’s fees in addition to the unpaid work was limited by state law to a few hundred dollars.

He said he welcomed Cade pursuing a lawsuit. “Maybe it turns out we had those bills and nobody bothered to tell us on the council,” said Bauman. The unspoken implication is that the discovery process would give Bauman and other council members insight into the frequently-criticized City Attorney’s Office.

“This is one of the reasons the council needs its own lawyers, so these kinds of things do not happen,” said Bauman, of the proposal to reassign an assistant city attorney to operate under council control.

He referenced a closed session discussion about appealing any decision by Judge Christopher Foley. Bauman, an attorney, said he thought that was a losing argument and doesn’t want to see Cade paid for that.

“There are going to be occasions where we have to have outside counsel,” said Jackson, defending the city attorney’s office. “It doesn’t hold the city up in the best light when we are fighting in this regard.”

“You should at least do the courtesy of picking up the phone,” said Ald. Scott Spiker.

Bauman, Murphy and Spiker voted against the measure to pay Cade for the extra amount requested, while Hamilton and Alderwoman Nikiya Dodd voted for it. That effectively killed or placed “on file” the measure.

Dodd, the council’s most outspoken Spencer defender, initially registered her opposition to paying Cade.

“Did I read that correctly that he is asking for $1.2 million or is that somebody else?” asked Dodd before the vote.

“That’s something else,” said Hamilton. Dodd withdrew her objection.

Bauman had an explanation for her confusion. Cade is already suing the city on behalf of other clients. Before granting the original authorization the council had to give Cade a waiver on his conflict of interest because his firm had three open cases against the city.

The Cade payment isn’t the only issue the council and city attorney are at odds over. Mayor Tom Barrett vetoed a budget amendment that would give the council its own attorney and now the council must decide if it will override his veto.

Both the Cade issue and veto are expected to be considered at the full council’s Nov. 23 meeting.

Categories: Politics, Weekly

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