Lafayette Consolidated Government has paid more than $14 million to lawyers since 2014, nearly half of it to three law firms and one attorney that each received more than $1 million, an analysis by The Acadiana Advocate shows.
On average, LCG has spent about $3 million a year on attorneys. Legal fees for the 2018-19 fiscal year seems to be in line with past years. From Nov. 1 through February, LCG paid $1.1 million in legal fees.
City-Parish Attorney Paul Escott said in 2016 LCG uses a standard fee schedule to pay attorneys — from $100 an hour to $175 an hour, depending on experience — and that's probably below market rate. At the time, he said, the Louisiana Attorney General's Office paid as much as $225 an hour for experienced attorneys.
The top three law firms and one individual shared nearly $7 million from Nov. 1, 2014, through February. The top nine shared $9.1 million of the $14 million paid for legal fees, with $5 million paid to dozens of other law firms, according to numbers provided by LCG.
Becker & Hebert law firm tops the list, having been paid more than $2 million since Nov. 1, 2014. Michael Hebert served as the city-parish attorney from 2011-2015 under former City-Parish President Joey Durel and remains an assistant city-parish attorney in the administrations of Mayor-President Joel Robideaux.
Hebert writes some of the ordinances requested by the administration and City-Parish Council, was on the four-person legal team that drafted an ordinance to correct precinct errors introduced with passage of a home rule charter amendment Dec. 8, and is listed as the attorney of record to defend LCG in a civil lawsuit seeking to invalidate the ordinance and all or parts of the Dec. 8 election.
Richard Becker for many years was the attorney handling planning and zoning matters for LCG. The firm's attorneys have represented the city-parish planning and zoning commission and its board of zoning adjustment.
Mahtook & LaFleur law firm was paid $1.8 million by LCG since 2014. In the first four months of the current fiscal year, the legal team has been paid $270,566. If that trend continues through Oct. 31, the end of the fiscal year, the law firm stands to earn more than $800,000 this year, which is double what it was paid by LCG three of the past four fiscal years.
Robert Mahtook Jr. served on Robideaux's transition team when Robideaux was elected mayor-president, although the legal firm was working for LCG before Robideaux was elected and was paid more than $470,000 in 2014-15, the year before Robideaux took office.
Louisiana State Sen. Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte, is a member of the law firm and served in the Louisiana House of Representatives with Robideaux. He has appeared before the Lafayette City-Parish Council several times in the past year handling legal matters.
Paul Escott, who was hired by Robideaux to be the city-parish attorney, also works for Mahtook & LaFleur. LCG, in providing The Acadiana Advocate with data on legal fees, reported Escott's fees separate from Mahtook & LaFleur. Since the 2015-16 fiscal year, Escott was paid more than $1.2 million by LCG. If combined with payments to Mahtook & LaFleur, the firm becomes the highest-paid by LCG at $3 million since Nov. 1, 2014.
The city-parish attorney attends all city-parish council meetings, writes some of the ordinances the council considers; provides legal advice to the council, mayor-president, administration, boards and commissions; writes LCG contracts and legal agreements; and manages a team of contract attorneys working on behalf of LCG.
Voorhies & Labbe law firm earned $1.5 million from LCG since the 2014-15 fiscal year. The amount of legal work the firm conducts for LCG increased dramatically after Robideaux took office. During the 2014-15 fiscal year, when Durel was in office, the law firm took in $23,694 from LCG. The following fiscal year, with Robideaux at the helm of LCG 10 out of 12 months, the firm took in $168,883 from LCG, jumping to $813,609 in 2016-17 and dripping to $492,444 in 2017-18. The firm's attorneys have defended LCG in various lawsuits over the years and Richard Chappuis previously was attorney for the city's fire and police civil service board.