Legal services proposals reveal previously unknown details

Photo courtesy of City of Hemet
Hemet City Attorney Eric Vail.

■ By Melissa Diaz Hernandez / Editor

Despite a rush by 13 law firms to serve Hemet’s legal needs going forward, the city decided to re-sign its longtime partner, Burke, Williams and Sorensen and attorney Eric Vail, to a retainer of $32,500 a month.
The city of Hemet requested proposals for general counsel services in May 2017. The newspaper submitted a California Public Records Act request for all legal services proposals.
Multiple firms came in with lower bids than Burke’s monthly retainer, one as low as $21,500 per month.
Some firms addressed their ability to significantly reduce litigation matters and the cost of legal services.
Aleshire & Wynder LLP of Irvine stated in their proposal, “Similarly, in the City of Perris, over a three year period when the City was in financial difficulty verging on bankruptcy, we were able to reduce the legal budget from $600,000 to approximately $200,000 while still adequately addressing the client’s legal needs. When we took over Hesperia in 2007, there were over 30 litigation matters and we reduced them to zero.”
The Valley Chronicle previously reported on the Burke agreement.
“The city manager, and his/her designee, the city attorney, and Burke’s primary code enforcement attorney will confer and develop protocols to determine when and under what circumstances the city will utilize legal assistance in the code enforcement process, according to the contract.”
“The city manager will function as a ‘gatekeeper’ of specialty (non-retainer work) work flowing from city departments to Burke,” continued the agreement.
When it comes to billing, some firms stated that they provide great detail in their monthly billing statements.
One example is Green de Bortnowsky, LLP of Calabasas. The firm proposed a flat rate of $175 per hour for all attorney personnel and $125 for paralegals, rates which are well below their normal billing rates. The firm expanded on their billing procedures stating that they “tender monthly invoices which outline the services provided [and] the identity of the person at the firm providing them with the time extended. This results in rather bulky invoices but provides great detail to city management.” At $175 per hour for 150 hours per month, the retainer would come out to $26,250.
In Burke’s proposal was the following: “Burke will provide all General Municipal Services as described in the Draft Professional Services Contract located in Attachment “B” as a fixed price Retainer of $32,500 per month, regardless of hours. The nominal rate for this work is $205 per hour. However, while the rate may fluctuate up and down each month, the City’s cost remains the same to provide for maximum cost stability.”
Additional costs included in Burke’s proposal were for “Special services at $225 per hour. Special services trial, appeals, personnel, hearings and arbitration ($245), special services labor negotiations ($250).”

Services provided per Attachment A in Burke’s contract:
Attendance at all regular City Council meetings and special and emergency City Council meetings as directed by the mayor or city manager.
Attendance at all regular, special, and emergency Planning Commission meetings, and other meetings of city boards, commissions, and committees, as may periodically be requested by the City Council or city manager.
Attendance at executive team meetings and one session of office hours per week, provided on either the day of the executive team, City Council, or Planning Commission meeting.
Review agenda descriptions, staff reports, and other agenda items as requested by the City Council, city manager, or executive team members.
Review and advice concerning Political Reform Act Conflict of Interest issues, Government Code 1090 issues, and similar public ethics issues, including preparation of requests for advice and opinion letter with the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC), and assistance with FPPC inquiries and investigations.
Review and advice in response to requests for city records under the Public Records Act.
Advice and guidance on compliance with the Ralph M. Brown Act.
Risk management support services including a monthly Litigation Status Report, consultation with city’s third-party claims adjustor and department heads on risk management issues, and review of certain claims at the request of city’s third-party claims adjustor, and response to city and insurer audits.
Routine Public Works issues involving legal advice regarding operational issues, contract matters, stop notices, routine bid issues, and review of form public works contract documents.
Routine Land Use issues involving advice to planning and engineering staff regarding application of California laws (Planning and Zoning Law, Permit Streamlining Act, Subdivision Map Act, Mitigation Fee Act, CEQA (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8) (e) (10) etc.,) to development projects and City initiated planning and zoning actions, assistance with review and application of California Environmental Quality Act, review and interpretation of City ordinances and policies regarding land use matters.
Advice regarding police standards and practice.
Appearances before other public entities or governmental agencies on behalf of the city.
Review of pending legislation.
Review of JPA agreements and amendments.
Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), home loan, and other state and federal programs.
Provide legal advice and opinions on all matters affecting the city, except when prevented from doing so by a conflict of interest.
Prepare and/or review resolutions and ordinances initiated by the city.
Prepare or review and certify as to legal form contracts for service and the purchase of goods and equipment, contracts for services, agreements between city and other local governmental agencies, grant acceptance and implementation agreements, and similar agreements.
Prepare or review and certify as to legal form contracts, agreements, and other documents for the disposition of city property, fee deferral, or waiver agreements, subdivision improvement agreements, and similar routine land use and developer agreements, excluding complex agreements as provided below.
Participation in Hemet ROCS team, or similar enforcement/compliance team, activities including operation planning sessions, inspections, and similar activities.
Review and representation of city in Pitchess motions and subpoenas for records from third parties.
Defense of all civil litigation, writs, and equitable actions initiated against the city of Hemet, any of its Departments, and employee(s), to the extent the city has accepted and authorized the defense of such employee(s), including without limitation, actions for police defense; tort liability; employment matters including wrongful termination; breach of contract; regulatory takings; and inverse condemnation; defense of municipal ordinances; and similar actions.
Commencement and prosecution of all civil litigation initiated at the direction of the City Council against third parties, whether for breach of contract, injury to person or property, eminent domain, or to otherwise protect or advance the rights, powers, and interests of the city.
Special Services (1) Personnel/Employment Advice: Personnel investigations, grievances, (2) disciplinary procedures, ADA interactive process, retirement and medical benefit issues, leave issues, drafting and implementing personnel rules and regulations, FLSA, FMLA, ADA and HIPAA issues, and Police Officer and Firefighter Bill of Rights issues.
Personnel/Employment Advocacy: Skelly hearings, grievance hearings, disciplinary hearings.
Labor Negotiations: Act as a lead labor negotiator and/or provide legal advice to other designated negotiators when directed by the City Council or city manager.
Assist with fact finding and impasse procedures and hearings.
Complex Transactions: Prepare and negotiate statutory development agreements, disposition and development agreements, commercial ground leases, density bonus agreements, affordable housing agreements, joint financing agreements, and similar agreements.
Complex Public Works Issues: Contested bid disputes and challenges, hearings for contractor’s designated as “not responsible,” breach of contract claims, assistance with contract management issues and disputes.
Drafting specialized public works contracts or special conditions.
Prevailing wages disputes and complex land use environmental matters.

The city has decided to continue its relationship with Burke despite the continued increase in legal costs.

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