A week after he rapped the city’s Law Department for its recordkeeping, New Orleans Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux is again criticizing the department, this time for its extensive use of outside law firms.
In a public letter released Wednesday, Quatrevaux said the department could not provide detailed, written reasons for why it chose four private firms over the city’s in-house lawyers to handle some cases. He also said the department selected firms in a semiprivate manner and the contracts it issued to the firms were too vague.
Additionally, the department does not properly evaluate firms’ completed work, the letter said.
The firms Quatrevaux singled out are Phelps Dunbar LLP, Sher Garner Cahill Richter Klein & Hilbert LLC, LeBlanc Butler LLC and Capitelli & Wicker.
The city paid them almost $900,000 in 2013, largely for litigation related to the New Orleans Police Department and Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office federal consent decrees.
The Office of Inspector General has issued a series of reports examining spending on the city’s justice system.
The city should document its decisions for using outside counsel in each case and should attach a budget and projected number of hours to be worked, Quatrevaux suggested. Such a document “would assure outside parties that the Law Department considered options before hiring more expensive outside counsel,” he said.
The city pays the city attorney, the most expensive attorney in the Law Department, $110 per hour worked. But it paid outside counsel as much as $325 per hour in 2013, Quatrevaux noted.
He also recommended that the department evaluate and select law firms for specific cases in a publicly announced meeting. As it stands, the department issues an initial request for qualifications and vets responses to that request in a public meeting, but it does not publicly discuss responses to its later request for proposals.
Finally, Quatrevaux recommended that the department add performance standards to its contracts with outside firms and provide the city’s procurement office with documented evaluations of the firms.
In response, Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s press secretary, Hayne Rainey, said the Law Department gives the city “highly efficient and effective legal representation.” He also noted reforms enacted since Landrieu took office in 2010, among them a reduction in the use of outside counsel.
The Law Department manages more than 1,400 open cases filed against the city and represents the interests of 15 city boards and commissions, including the City Council, the city said.
It also negotiated, drafted and approved more than 1,400 contracts for more than 50 city departments last year, officials said.
Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA.