The Work

July 19, 2010 3:54 PM

Big Legal Bills Follow Disgraced Political Bigwigs

Posted by Brian Baxter

Legal fees for a trio of troubled political figures were disclosed over the the past few days, along with the firms profiting from those assignments.


On Friday, The Associated Press reported that the city of Detroit took its objections over $100,000 in legal fees and expenses billed by a former Venable partner to court. Sheryl Robinson Wood stepped down as a federally mandated monitor for the city's police department a year ago following the revelation of an inappropriate relationship with ex-mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.

Wood, who joined Venable in January 2009 from Saul Ewing (she'd cochaired that firm's white-collar and government enforcement practice), resigned from Venable last September. A Venable spokesman says the firm has no comment at this time.

According to The AP, the city also is considering filing a civil suit against Wood and her employers, past and present, to recoup some of the $10 million in legal fees paid out over several years during which she served as monitor.

Earlier this month the city sought copies of text messages between Wood and Kilpatrick. The former mayor's mounting legal bills recently led one of his lawyers to ask taxpayers to front the costs for two additional attorneys representing Kilpatrick in a federal mail and tax fraud case.


The roughly $700,000 in fees paid to Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison from the campaign fund of outgoing New York Gov. David Paterson also were reported Friday by The New York Times. Paterson had retained the firm earlier this year to handle the fallout from a domestic violence dispute involving a staffer, an ethics complaint over World Series tickets, and an investigation into a casino contract at the Aqueduct racetrack in Queens.

In March, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom of counsel Judith Kaye was hired as independent counsel--the former chief judge of the New York Court of Appeals is no stranger to such assignments--to probe the allegations against Paterson and his office.

The Times reports that as counsel to Paterson--Paul Weiss also represented his scandal-plagued predecessor, Eliot Spitzer--the firm recommended the governor hire the Sard Verbinnen public relations firm at an additional cost of nearly $160,000 to the governor's campaign fund. Paul Weiss declined to comment on its legal tab.


In Chicago last week prosecutors quickly wrapped up their case against former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich in his federal corruption trial. Before resting the case, the prosecution claimed Blago owed his former defense attorneys at Winston & Strawn $1.2 million in early 2008 as a result of federal investigations into his administration, The AP reports. (Blagojevich eventually paid the firm $750,000, according to campaign finance reports.)

The fees have no connection to Blago's current defense team. Chicago lawyers Sheldon Sorosky, Sam Adam, Jr., and Aaron Goldstein are representing their client under a court order that limits their billing rates to $110 per hour. Still, the cash in the former governor's Friends of Blagojevich campaign fund is quickly running out, according to the Chicago Daily Herald.

A judge's recent disbursement of $408,000 from the fund to pay Blago's legal bills leaves a remaining balance of only $76,281.60, the Daily Herald reports. Taxpayers will likely have to cover any future legal bills as defense lawyers prepare to present their case to a jury.

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