Lawyers Mike Wilson and John Ogles have filed their requests for attorney fees in the case that overturned the unconstitutional General Improvement Fund pork barrel scheme that additionally produced federal indictments against several legislators.
The state of Arkansas is fighting payment for their work and the Arkansas Supreme Court — though ruling that the GIF scheme was unconstitutional and the lawyers were entitled to fees in the case — ordered a hearing on what the fee should be. (Sadly, some Republican justices didn’t want to award any attorney fees. Without such awards, there’d be no suing the state for scandalous acts such as these.)
As Wilson and Ogles explain, Wilson had twice sued previously to upend unconstitutional legislative pork barreling. To challenge the new scheme — funneling money through planning and development districts where it was distributed as legislators ordered — required significant research. Ogles agreed to a contingency fee of one-third of money recovered and didn’t keep time sheets.
In various documents, Wilson and Ogles illustrate the amount of time and money they’ve spent — including additional legal help paid out of Wilson’s own pocket — to pursue this case. They note that the Central Arkansas Planning and Development District was billed more than $160,000 for their unsuccessful defense by the Mitchell law firm, as one indication of the time involved. The attorney general’s office also has spent uncounted public dollars in its defense of state agencies and officials.
Circuit Judge Chris Piazza had awarded $323,266 in attorney fees previously out of almost $1 million in spending that he blocked. With interest, Wilson and Ogles ask for $386,927.
There’s some good reading for fans of good government in the documents filed by Wilson and Ogles. Their brief argues that the fee award is justified and, furthermore, that the state had abandoned its claim when the money moved into the hands of the Central Arkansas Planning and Development District.
If you read anything, read the affidavit in which Wilson, a former legislator, outlines his considerable experience; gives an estimate of the time he spent; explains some $16,000 he personally spent for work of another lawyer and court costs, and then recites the worth of the legal work:
Since beginning this series of cases attacking unlawful expenditures of GIF funds in 2006, 2007 and 2015, no one else has risked the time, effort and personal expense of bringing the wrongful acts to public exposure. The scheme of using an intermediary (CAPDD) to distribute the state funds to favored donees in 2015 was certainly a novel mechanism, admittedly invented for the sole and only purpose of avoding the decisions of the Supreme Court in Wilson I and Wilson II.
The results obtained in this series of cases whereby every challenged act was ultimately declared unlawful, together with the federal criminal cases later prosecuted, have at last put a stop to the unlawful gifts of public funds, at least for the foreseeable future. The pursuit of this and the previous actions have benefitted the public taxpayers in the “millions of dollars,” as noted by the Supreme Court.
The 2015 appropriation acts, all held unlawful as a result of this action, appropriated $120 million statewide — not all of which was actually funded. Each of the eight planning and development districts received many millions of taxpayer dollars and spent most of it while this action was pending on appeal. Nevertheless, the overall effect of this action exposed to public scrutiny the subterfuge of the combination of individual legislators with the district boards in controlling and directing the “grants” to favored local donees. The total number of GIF appropriation bills has now declined by over 1,000 because of this action and related federal prosecutions. Now, the yearly budget surplus is known by all taxpayers in advance and utilized for various statewide purposes, with public audit and accountability.
It won’t happen, but Attorney General Leslie Rutledge should tell the court: “Pay them their money. And, while you’re at it, thank them on behalf of grateful taxpayers.”