County Spends $61.2 Million To Retain 33 Legal Defense Firms

The San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors this week approved contracts with 33 law firms at the aggregate estimated cost of $61,200,000 to engage in legal defense work relating to lawsuits officials anticipate will be filed against the county in the future.
The contracts secure the services of the law firms at the established hourly rates of $265 for lawyers who have achieved the position of partners with their respective firms and $245 for those designated as associates by their firms. Paralegals and law clerks are to receive $115 per hour.
The firms are to provide legal defense services to the county’s self-insured public liability program for the period of April 15, 2021 to April 14, 2026.
The firms retained under the arrangement are Alvarez-Glasman & Colvin; Arias & Lockwood, APLC; Bergman, Dacey, Goldsmith, PLC; Berman, Berman, Berman, Schneider & Lowary, LLP; Burke, Williams & Sorensen, LLP; Cole Huber, LLP; Collins, Collins, Muir & Stewart, LLP; Cummings, McClorey, Davis, & Acho, PLC; Jeffery W. Grass, PC doing business as Davis, Grass, Goldenstein & Finlay; Dolen, Tucker, Tierney & Abraham, PLC; Dummit, Buchholz & Trapp; Elizabeth M. Kessel, Inc. doing business as Kessel & Megrabyan; Fagen, Friedman & Fulfrost, LLP; Graves & King, LLP; Gutierrez, Preciado & House, LLP; LaFollette Johnson De Hass Fesler & Ames, APC; Law Office of Pelayes & Yu, APC; Lawrence Beach, Allen & Choi, PC; Lewis, Brisbois, Bisgaard & Smith, LLP; Lynberg, Watkins, PC; Manning & Kass, Ellrod, Ramirez, Trester, LLP; Premier Law PC; Richard D. Jones, PLC doing business as Jones & Mayer Attorneys at Law; Rinos & Martin, LLP; Silver & Wright, LLP; Skane Wilcox, LLP; Sloan, Sakai, Yeung & Wong, LLP; Slovak, Baron, Empey, Murphy & Pinkney, LLP; Smith Law Offices, LLP; Thompson and Colegate, LLP; Wagner, Zemming, Christensen, LLP; Walker & Mann, LLP; and the law firm of Wesierski & Zurek, LLP.
According to a report to the board of supervisors from County Counsel Michelle Blakemore and Leanna Williams, the director of the county’s risk management division, “The estimated combined five-year cost for these contracts is $61,200,000. These services will be paid on a fee-for-service basis. The cost for the remainder of 2020-21 is estimated at $2.55 million, and will be paid from various department of risk management funds; sufficient appropriation has been included in the department of risk management’s 2020-21 budget. Beginning in 2021-22, annual ongoing public liability attorney costs are anticipated to be approximately $12.24 million and will be included in the department of risk management’s future recommended budgets. Costs are charged back to county departments via premiums billed through the annual budget process.”
According to Blakemore and Williams, “The department of risk management self-administers the county’s public liability insurance program. Legal defense for insured claims is provided primarily by the office of county counsel, with supplemental services provided by outside attorney firms with specialized knowledge. In today’s litigious climate against public agencies, recent legislative changes, and high-dollar jury verdicts, it is critical that experienced law firms be available to the county when additional services are needed. Contracting with attorney firms allows the county to control expenses with a fixed rate schedule, thereby lowering defense expenses while ensuring representation with legal expertise. The recommended action will establish a list of 33 public liability attorney firms that have specialized public entity experience and have agreed to specific terms that ensure optimal service to the county.”
The county on July 24, 2020 solicited bids for public liability attorney services by posting a notice to the county’s Electronic Procurement Network. Thirty-four law firms submitted proposals. One proposal from Stanzler Law Group was incomplete and was rejected. The other 33 proposals were from the law firms that were retained this week.
Staff from the county’s children and family services division, public works and the sheriff’s department as well as the office of county counsel and the Arrowhead Regional Medical Center, which serves as the county hospital, served as an evaluation committee, and examined the proposals based upon compliance with requirements listed in the bid solicitation, experience, expertise in defending public entities, and strength in specialties needed to serve the county, according to Blakemore and Williams. The evaluation committee recommended contracts with all 33 law firms selected by the committee.
Unstated in Blakemore’s and Williams’ report was that some, but not all, of the law firms retained were selected not because of their ability in defending against lawsuits but to prevent those firms or any of their attorneys from serving as the legal representatives of plaintiffs suing the county. Upon being hired by the county, each of the 33 firms is enjoined from representing any individual or entity suing the county without a waiver from all parties, since acting as a plaintiff’s attorney for anyone or any entity suing a defendant that attorney is defending is considered a conflict of interest.
-Mark Gutglueck

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