August 5, 2020

Baltimore politics delay Wilmer fees in police probe


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By Julie Triedman, From The Am Law Daily

As part of a compromise related to funding a $6.4 million settlement with the family of , Wilmer, Cutler, Pickering, Hale and Dorr will have to wait a bit longer to be fully paid for its work for the City of Baltimore.
According to a report in Tuesday’s Baltimore Sun, the city’s spending panel won’t ask the city council to approve the full $2 million billed by the Wilmer team for representing Baltimore in a probe, but will instead request $1.2 million. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake will seek an additional $800,000 to $1 million for the firm in her proposed budget for the year that begins July 1, the paper reported.
The payment covers the firm’s work since last spring, when the mayor tapped Wilmer’s regulatory and government affairs chair, Jamie Gorelick, to help the city cope with a massive federal inquiry into its policing practices. The probe will determine whether the department’s use of force and arrests represents “a pattern or practice of discriminatory policing,” according to a statement issued on May 8 by the Justice Department.
The civil rights investigation, which remains ongoing, was prompted by Gray’s death on April 19 from a spinal injury he suffered after being taken into police custody a week earlier.
The administration will send a bill seeking $1.2 million for Wilmer to the city council for approval as soon as next week. In a related bill, the mayor will ask the council to approve a $6.4 million payment to Gray’s family. According to the Sun’s report, the mayor initially sought $8.4 million in a single bill that would have funded both the Gray settlement and Wilmer’s full $2 million in fees, but the council’s leadership had balked at the combined legislation.
In a letter last October, the city’s solicitor told the mayor that Wilmer is taking a 10 percent discount on its standard rates and is capping its fees for its first year of work ending in June. The rates per hour run as high as $1,200, according to a spokesman in Mayor Rawlings-Blake’s office.
A majority on a panel overseeing city expenditures nevertheless opposed the $2 million Wilmer fee request, saying members needed more details about what specific services the firm had performed. Members now say they’re getting more information about what the firm’s lawyers have done, including helping the city produce hundreds of thousands of emails and other documents, facilitating interviews and collecting other information requested by prosecutors.
“Before, to me, it was just a blank check, but [the WilmerHale lawyers] are in the trenches with the mayor’s office, the and the community to reform the ,” one of the council members who previously objected to the payments told the .
“The pace of payments from Baltimore should roughly correspond to the pace at which the work is being done,” Gorelick said in response to an email by The Am Law Daily. “We were pleased that the Baltimore City Council approves of the approach that we have followed in interacting with the Department of Justice and advising the Police Department.”
Gorelick, a former Defense Department general counsel and deputy U.S. Attorney General, has become a go-to lawyer for cities with police department problems. In January, she was tapped to lead a team helping Chicago deal with its own DOJ investigation into that city’s police in the aftermath of the disclosure of a video showing the killing of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, who was shot 16 times in October 2014 by a police officer now facing trial on murder charges.
Gorelick is familiar with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel from the years both worked in the Clinton Administration. In the Chicago matter, Gorelick is co-counsel with Taft Stettinius & Hollister’s Allan Slagel. Rates for the lawyers in that probe also run as high as $1,200 an hour, according to Crain’s Chicago Business.
In both the Chicago and Baltimore probes, Gorelick is teamed up with Wilmer partner Brent Gurney, a former assistant U.S. attorney in Maryland, and Debo Adegbile, a well-known civil rights partner who once directed litigation for the Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
A big factor leading Baltimore to choose Wilmer, according to the Baltimore solicitor’s letter last fall, was Gorelick’s and Gurney’s work representing Puerto Rico’s police department in a similar civil rights probe beginning in 2008. That investigation ended in a settlement in which the commonwealth agreed to a 10-year, $200 million reform program in 2013.
IMAGE: A protest in Baltimore over the death of Freddie Gray. Wikimedia Commons
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