Your editorial, “Board hamstrung by lawyers,” characterizes as “poor” the decision by John Barry and Tim Doody to hire Gladstone Jones and crew on a contingency fee basis with a poison pill clause. I suggest two other P words far more accurately describe that particular attorney-client contract: “prudent” and “prescient.”
From the standpoint of the levee board (client), the decision by former board leaders Barry and Doody to hire lawyers on a contingency fee basis was quite prudent. When a client hires a lawyer on a contingency fee basis, the client pays no fee for the lawyer’s time and effort unless and until the lawyer recovers money for the client.
Often — as in the levee board suit — the lawyer also pays out of the lawyer’s own pocket considerable sums of money for case-related expenses (filing fees, depositions, travel, experts, etc).
In other words, the lawyer assumes the risk of losing. The levee board lost its lawsuit (pending appeal). Jones and crew report expending $2 million in time and money.
That is $2 million that the levee board never had to pay a lawyer, because Barry and Doody hired the lawyers on a contingency fee agreement. I call that prudence.
As prudent as the contingency fee agreement was from the board’s perspective, the poison pill clause from the standpoint of Gladstone Jones and crew (lawyers) was equally prescient.
The poison pill clause requires the levee board to pay the lawyers an hourly fee instead of a contingency fee only if the board chooses to fire the lawyers or to drop the lawsuit, not if the board loses (an important proviso Quin Hillyer conveniently neglected to mention last week in his diatribe suggesting taxpayers are on the hook).
The lawyers certainly recognized that their client, the levee board, was subject to reconstitution by a governor who is more than a bit beholden to the very defendants the lawyers were suing.
Indeed, immediately after the suit was filed, Gov. Bobby Jindal began replacing pro-suit board members with anti-suit members.
The lawyers had agreed to accept the risk of losing the lawsuit on the merits, in the courts — not the risk of losing the client to a politician’s kowtowing. The poison pill clause was a foresightful attempt at mitigation of the latter risk. I call that prescience.
I always look forward to reading The Advocate’s Our Views column. Your opinions are usually well-informed and insightful. This time you disappointed on both counts.
S. Bradley Rhorer