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November 10, 2010 8:30 PM

Detroit Seeks Return of $10 Million in Fees for Police Monitor's Work

Posted by Brian Baxter

Sheryl Robinson Wood stepped down from her position as a federally mandated monitor for Detroit's police department in July 2009 after being accused of having an inappropriate relationship with disgraced ex-mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. Now a fight has erupted over what Wood billed the city while working for two law firms and one consulting firm.

The Detroit Free Press reports that lawyers representing the Motor City filed a motion in federal court on Tuesday seeking sanctions and the disgorgement of more than $10 million in fees from Saul Ewing, Venable, and risk-assessment firm Kroll.

The 19-page motion was filed by Dykema Gossett litigation partner James Feeney, who is representing Detroit in the matter. The motion claims that Wood's "secret, personal relationship" with Kilpatrick violated her promise to be "truly independent and unbiased" when ensuring that the city complied with an agreement reached with the Justice Department's civil rights division in 2003.

From July of that year until October 1, 2007, Wood worked for Kroll. In that time, Wood and Kroll received more than $6.2 million for their services, according to the motion filed by the city on Tuesday. Wood joined Saul Ewing in October 2007 and worked at that firm until January 2009, when she moved to Venable.

Detroit's motion states that Saul Ewing received nearly $2.5 million during the time Wood was at the firm, while Venable was paid almost $1.4 million.

"Needless to say, Kroll, Saul Ewing, and Venable each benefited handsomely from Wood's employment and the payments they received for their services as the Monitor," the city's motion states. "In fact, Venable continues to seek payment as evidenced by a July 2, 2010, motion seeking fees and expenses up to and even beyond the date Wood tendered her resignation to the court."

In a statement provided to The Am Law Daily, Venable says the court accepted Wood's resignation as monitor, "faulting her for conduct that had ended long before association with Venable." She subsequently resigned from the firm on August 31, 2009.

"While Ms. Wood was a partner, and Venable was supporting her in her role as the monitor from October 18, 2008, through July 23, 2009, Venable acted professionally and properly provided the services required under the consent decrees," the firm says. "There is no basis for disgorgement of the fees paid to Venable for those services, and Venable will vigorously oppose the City's motion."

Kroll, which was sold for $1.3 billion earlier this year, released the following statement to the Free Press: "Kroll stands behind its work and the efforts of its team members, who worked diligently to monitor [the Detroit Police Department's] progress. Kroll will vigorously defend itself in this matter."

Saul Ewing says in a statement that the "alleged conduct giving rise to the City's motion took place years before" Wood joined the firm.

"Saul Ewing did not learn of the allegations contained in the motion until well after Ms. Wood resigned to accept another job," the statement says. "Saul Ewing believes that the services of its team of attorneys provided to the court in connection with the two consent decrees, during the period of September 17, 2007, to October 17, 2008, were appropriate and consistent with the terms of the court's consent decrees. Prior to this motion, there had been no objections made to the services provided to the court."

Wood's lawyer, David Schertler of Washington, D.C.'s Schertler & Onorato, told the Free Press that "Detroit knows full well that the reason they had to pay $10 million was because of their admitted abject failure to achieve compliance with two consent judgments, one of which should have ended in 2005 and the other in 2008."

Schertler claims his client is being made a scapegoat by the city in order to recoup the monitoring fees and expenses "for work that was fully completed even though no communications or meetings [Wood] may have had with Kwame Kilpatrick had any substantive effect on the monitorship."

Some in the Michigan press have been extremely critical of Wood's work, and Detroit's police department, which for years has struggled to control an upsurge in violent crime, has met fewer than half of its goals under the court's consent decree despite repeated deadline extensions, the Free Press reports.

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