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July 13, 2009 3:33 PM

Colorado Governor in Hot Water Over Hogan & Hartson Hire

Posted by Brian Baxter

UPDATE: July 16, 6:30 a.m. The Denver Post published an editorial on Wednesday supporting the governor's hiring of Hogan & Hartson to advise the state on receiving federal stimulus funds.

William "Bill" Ritter, Jr., served as Denver's district attorney for 12 years before joining Hogan & Hartson in February 2005. A year later he left the firm to run for governor, soundly defeating Republican hopeful Robert Beauprez in November 2006.

Now halfway through his first term, Ritter is under fire for allegedly turning down a $75-per-hour offer from his state's attorney general's office to handle legal matters related to the disbursement of federal stimulus package funds. Instead, he allegedly granted a no-bid contract to his former firm at six times the cost.

The Denver Post reports that lawyers for Ritter told the state AG's office in February they would hire outside counsel to help Colorado with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

"They thought we didn't have the expertise or manpower," deputy AG Geoff Blue told The Denver Post. "We would've gotten the job done. But we told them, 'That's your call,' and we had nothing more to do with it."

According to a March contract between Hogan & Hartson and the governor's office, the firm will advise Ritter in analyzing the Recovery Act and ensuring that the state receives its full share of funds. The Post reports that Hogan has received $40,000 for its contract work so far and will continue to file monthly bills.

A call to a firm spokeswoman was not immediately returned.

Cole Finegan, a former chief-of-staff to the chair of the House Budget Committee and current managing partner of Hogan's Denver and Boulder offices, told The Post that his firm was uniquely qualified for the assignment.

"This is an area where we have great expertise and obviously we want to be helpful in ensuring Colorado gets its fair share of stimulus money," Finegan said.

Ritter isn't the only governor to come under fire for awarding contracts to a former employer. Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, a former partner at Philadelphia's Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll, has been criticized for granting similar no-bid contracts to his former firm in recent years.

Last year the former U.S. attorney for New Jersey, Christopher Christie, came under fire for a multimillion-dollar contract he awarded to the firm of John Ashcroft, his former boss at the Justice Department. Christie recently testified before a House panel that the contracts he gave political allies were proper.

The award of such contracts is not illegal, as long as there is no 'pay-to-play' involved. But once constituents are reminded that the hourly rates of outside lawyers often dwarf that of state employees, political damage can ensue.

Complicating matters in Ritter's case is the fact that state workers are facing furloughs and freezes in hiring and pay as Colorado seeks to implement a series of budget cuts.

The governor's office has reiterated that Hogan lawyers retained by the state are receiving discounted rates--between $290 and $450 per hour--and are being paid with federal funds. A spokeswoman told The Post that Hogan's national scope also means its lawyers are more ideally placed to handle the legal work related to an important piece of federal legislation.

Few seem to quibble with the firm's qualifications, but rather how it was hired.

"The better approach would've been to conduct an open process," Jenny Flanagan, executive director of watchdog group Colorado Common Cause, told The Post. "The governor's actions didn't violate any laws, but that alone doesn't make it right."

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