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June 17, 2011 3:54 PM

Plugging Away: Howrey Still Committed to New York Power Project

Posted by Brian Baxter

Despite an increasingly ugly leadership battle for control of a new public power utility in upstate New York, Howrey isn't ready to abandon what has become a controversial legal services contract that could pay the defunct firm up $15.5 million for work on the project.

The Am Law Daily reported this week on a dispute involving members of the board of directors for the North Country Power Authority (NCPA), which was formed last year to serve 24 municipalities in St. Lawrence and Franklin counties along New York's border with Canada.

NCPA chairman James Monroe is against retaining Howrey as the utility's outside counsel. The firm had a legal services contract with a predecessor organization, the Alliance for Municipal Power (AMP), which helped launch the NCPA. Other board members want to stick with Howrey, saying it performed well for AMP and noting that the terms of the firm's contract dictate that the agreement extend to the NCPA, even though Howrey recently entered voluntary Chapter 11 proceedings.

Robert Green, a member of Howrey's dissolution committee, has been one of the lead lawyers pushing for the creation of the NCPA over the past decade. Green, who has not responded to The Am Law Daily's repeated requests for comment, told the Watertown Daily Times in an interview in Syracuse this week that Howrey is solvent enough to continue its representation. (Click here for a declaration by former firm CEO Robert Ruyak outlining Howrey's financial condition, and here for a feature story from the June issue of The American Lawyer chronicling the firm's slide into dissolution.)

The NCPA is in disarray due to the resignation last month of a key board member. The departure left the board, which is supposed to have nine members, with only four, short of the quorum required to sign a contract with Howrey or to take any other official actions.

The Daily Times reports that if a decision on a contract with Howrey isn't reached soon, the towns and villages that comprise the NCPA could ultimately be on the hook for millions in legal fees to the firm.

Green told the Daily Times that he doesn't like to think about such an eventuality. He said he remains committed to fulfilling the terms of Howrey's contract. "This is an economically viable project," he told the paper. "This is a project that, upon completion, could have a huge benefit."

Meanwhile, three NCPA board members have written a letter to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo asking him to remove Monroe as chairman. (NCPA board members are gubernatorial appointees.) Monroe, who has sent his own letter to Cuomo, has vowed not to step down as head of the NCPA. 

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