Fort Smith Administrator: Law firm ‘hasn’t improperly billed the city’

story by Ryan Saylor

A Tuesday (June 3) letter from the city of Fort Smith's attorney disputes allegations made by attorney and blogger Matt Campbell against the city. Campbell had claimed the law firm billed the city for services not rendered and had excessively billed the city for work completed related to a Freedom of Information Act request by Campbell.

Campbell, who represents a group of Fort Smith officers involved in lawsuits against the city, made the allegations in a post on his Blue Hog Report blog, alleging that Daily and Woods had billed the city for phone calls to Campbell that were never made.

Campbell had requested documents tied to one of the cases through a FOIA request, but was denied, prompting him to eventually file a lawsuit. The lawsuit was eventually settled, with the city providing the documents requested and Campbell only being out about $315 (costs and filing fee for the lawsuit). But as a result of another FOIA request filed earlier this year, Campbell was able to track billing from the law firm to the city related to his first FOIA request, with the city on the hook to Daily and Woods for a total of $6,778.75.

In adding up the billing from the firm, Campbell noted an unusual number of meetings or telephone conversations between the firm and city officials. Campbell also noted several phone conversations listed by Daily and Woods that did not happen. City Attorney Jerry Canfield of Daily and Woods has said he believes the firm's records to be accurate, though he said the firm would investigate the claims made by Campbell.

"Our records are accurate and we're still in the process of looking at the details that are mentioned in the blog, but our comment is again it's a regular, ongoing monthly process. It's been going on for years. They're subject to public inspection. They've always been subject to public inspection. We're taking the time to evaluate the individual assertions in the blog to make sure we know what all the appropriate facts are."

In his letter to City Administrator Ray Gosack on Tuesday, Canfield stood by his firm's billing.

"The billings to the City reflect the actual time reasonably spent on matters we were asked to handle," he said, adding that "time spent by members of our firm preparing responses at the request of the City is accurately reflected in the billings to the City."

Canfield also challenged with documentation six different phone calls Campbell said had never occurred. The documentation includes copies of the corresponding phone bills, as well as handwritten notes by Rick Wade, though Canfield notes that Wade's notes indicate the wrong date, which could have explained the assertion by Campbell that he had not received a call on November 22. In fact, Canfield said, the call took place on November 21.

Without providing additional documentation, Canfield said calls were made to Campbell at his Little Rock office that went unanswered.

"Apparently, the Little Rock attorney does not have a full-time secretary and, consequently, a number of phone calls were placed to his office that were not answered by a human or were not answered at all. Calls were sometimes 'answered' at his office by a voice message indicating his message box was full. In those instances, it is customary for our firm's attorneys to document the attempted call(s) in order to keep an accurate record of legal services."

In response, Campbell said the claims about his voicemail, or lack thereof, were not true.

"That never happened. There was a one day period a week ago where I switched to another phone, but there's never been a time when my voicemail was full."

He also said his allegations initially claimed that at least nine phone calls the city was charged for were not made, meaning the letter from Canfield to Gosack does not answer the allegations in their entirety.

"Yeah, if they want to say there were a couple of additional calls from numbers I didn't recognize, I'll say that. But you still didn't make all the calls you charge for in November. But if this is your evidence, you're practically admitting that there are phone calls you can't account for."

Campbell also said the documentation from Canfield accounts for only six phone calls.

"What about the other three," Campbell asked. "Their own invoice is not evidence of anything. That is what I had and was pointing out. Most of (the calls accounted for by Canfield) were missed calls and that still doesn't get you to the number of phone calls they were charging the city for."

In an e-mail to the Board of Directors Tuesday, Gosack said the record did not show certain calls because of the alleged full voicemail.

"There were some calls made by Daily & Woods attorneys to Mr. Campbell for which there is no record from Daily & Woods’ phone company. There is no record because Mr. Campbell’s inbox/voice mail box was full and wasn’t accepting any more calls. Daily & Woods has confirmed with its telephone service provider that, in this instance, the attempted call wouldn’t appear on the telephone billing record. Nonetheless, Daily & Woods’ work records show the attempted call to Mr. Campbell," Gosack wrote. "I trust this information and documentation demonstrates that Daily & Woods hasn’t improperly billed the city."

In discussing the report by Daily and Woods, Campbell said even if the calls were made as claimed, it was still difficult to detail any work done associated with the calls due to the billing style of Daily and Woods.

"No one can verify that because they bill (clients) with block billing. When (attorney) Doug Carson lists like 6.8 hours of total time spent and puts eight or nine things in a block, it's impossible to know how much time he spent on any one of those things. When you do anything in block, no one can tell what you did."

In an e-mail to The City Wire, Gosack referred back to his e-mailed comments to the Board of Directors.

The letter to Gosack came the same day City Director Philip Merry had requested a CPA audit of billing by Daily and Woods to the city, as well as a formation of a committee to review whether the city should keep its contract with the firm or hire independent counsel that would be on the city payroll, therefore eliminating billing errors in the future.

Campbell said the proposals by Merry are worth pursuing.

"I think the independent (review) of their bills is necessary if you base it on what they sent (to the city)," he said. "In the bigger picture, the committee to look at the relationship between the city and Daily and Woods needs to be done every few years to make sure this is still in the city's best interest."

Link here for the PDF of the June 3 letter from Daily & Woods to Fort Smith City Administrator Ray Gosack.