Local NewsBoston paid $2.3M for outside counsel in past year...

Boston paid $2.3M for outside counsel in past year as legal costs jump

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The city of Boston spent $2.3 million last year on outside legal counsel, an increase over past years fueled by lawsuits, investigations and rising hourly rates, according to city data.

The $2,262,780.28 bill for fiscal year 2022 — July 1, 2021, through this past June 30 — was up from $1,712,147.16 the previous fiscal year and $1,705,074.73 in 2020.

The 2022 total bill is driven by a few main chunks that each top a quarter of a million dollars. The largest beneficiary of the city’s legal woes is William Sinnott of Hinckley Allen & Snyder, the lawyer who helmed, at a cost of $400,196.54 to the city, the deeply damning investigation into the Mission Hill K-8 School that lead to its closure.

Sinnott also received $101,382.30 for his work defending the city school district in the federal lawsuit from the Boston Parent Coalition for Academic Excellence over exam-school policy. He made $635 an hour for his work in both areas.

Outside counsel to defend the city in various lawsuits make up much of the legal bills. The priciest — and most eye-catching — is a set of ongoing, dueling lawsuits in which a former Boston Public Library janitorial supervisor and the city plus former Mayor Martin Walsh are suing each other over the supervisor’s firing in an overtime scheme among janitors back in 2018.

The city paid frequent-flyer outside counsel Brian T. Kelly of Nixon Peabody, a high-profile former prosecutor, $363,628.80 in FY 2022 alone, for “Coordinating Response Inquires, Durfee v. COB (City of Boston),” well more than the $97,159.10 he got for the same purpose last year.

Attorney Evan Ouelette of Brody, Hardoon got $238,014.58 from the city for work on the cases of Donna Galvin v. BPD and Jean & Verlande Regis v. COB.

Those two cases highlight the often-substantial settlements for cases, as the city has to pay former police lieutenant Galvin $2 million over a discrimination and retaliation claim, and another $500,000 to the Regises, who claimed BPD rammed through their door in the middle of the night and cuffed them, only to later figure out it was the wrong address.

Other notables include the $278,710.73 the city paid Rose Allen of Rose Law for “Land Use & Property Acquisition Matters, Long Island Bridge,” related to the ongoing efforts by the city to rebuild a large bridge despite Quincy’s opposition.

Mayor Michelle Wu, who started her term as mayor about five months into fiscal year 2022, has been the subject of several high-profile lawsuits, including those over the city’s vaccine mandate and the North End outdoor-dining restrictions.

All of those seem to fall under the purview of Kay Hodge and others at the firm Stoneman, Chandler. Those “Various Matters with COB” earned the firm $298,455.38 for $265-an-hour work. Even though it’s one of the larger chunks any firm received last year, it’s actually down from their previous year’s haul of $434,983.73, though way up from FY 2020’s $80,581.

In 2022, the going rate for most of the lawyers was $265 an hour, though a couple made a bit more, and Sinnott and Kelly significantly more. That baseline is up from $235 an hour in FY 2021 and a split between $225 and $235 for most lawyers contracted with the city in 2020.

The city notes that this isn’t actually a complete list of lawyers who have done work for the city, as individual departments hire outside counsel for specific purposes.

Boston does have its own law office, headed up by the corporation counsel, the top in-house lawyer. For years under Walsh that was Eugene O’Flaherty, and now for Wu it’s Adam Cederbaum, with longtime law department vet Henry Luthin filling the job in the middle under Acting Mayor Kim Janey.

Thumbing through the 2021 and 2020 lists is a trip down memory lane among City of Boston oddities and scandals. There’s the $34,020.00 the city had to pay Lauren Goldberg of KP Law to handle the City Council recount slog of 2019. A ways below it is $214,547.87 for Kelly, then in 2020 handling, among other things, grand jury subpoenas in a year when the feds were hitting city hall with paperwork over zoning-board bribery claims and investigations into pot-shop approvals.

And then, spanning multiple years, was money being spent around the case in which Black police officers alleged that the hair drug test that the police department used came back with disproportionate numbers of false positives for Black people. In 2020, the city paid attorney Helen Litsas $233,284.97 and Thomas Fitzpatrick $66,618.39; then in 2021 $128,287.05 to Fitzpatrick and $50,337.84 to Litsas; and then in 2022 another $14,531.25  for Litsas and $5,170.22 for Fitzpatrick.

Brian T. Kelly, seen here in a 2013 file photo, was a top earner from the City of Boston for outside counsel work.Boston Herald file photoBrian T. Kelly, seen here in a 2013 file photo, was a top earner from the City of Boston for outside counsel work.

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