Fort Smith officials to review allegations of improper legal billing

by The City Wire staff ( 4 views 

Fort Smith City Administrator Ray Gosack said he wanted proof from attorney Matt Campbell after Campbell alleged on his Blue Hog Report blog that the city's law firm had overcharged for services rendered. Campbell has responded.

In a May 20 blog post, Campbell — who represents clients in a whistleblower lawsuit against the Fort Smith Police Department — alleged that records he obtained from the Daily and Woods Law Firm showed that the firm was improperly billing the city. Specifically, Campbell said the firm was charging for work that was never completed.

The information Campbell presented in the original blog post was associated with a Freedom of Information Act request and subsequent lawsuit he had involving the city.

Campbell had requested documents tied to one of the cases he is counsel on through a FOIA request, but was denied, prompting him to eventually file a FOIA 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.

He noted an unusual number of meetings between the city and the firm and also noted that the law firm charged the city for calls to him that he said never happened.

Asked for comment, City Administrator Ray Gosack said on May 22 that he needed proof that the firm had charged for work it had no completed.

Campbell responded with a blog post and links to a series of phone records that he said dispute the billing submitted by Daily and Woods. In just one example, Campbell highlighted billing that he said was not accurate and provided links to supporting documentation — his own AT&T records detailing each incoming and outgoing call or text message to his phone.

"In January of 2014, Mr. Rick Wade of Daily & Woods referenced a 'phone call to Attorney Campbell' on January 16. According to my records, it didn’t happen. Mr. Wade referred to a phone call on January 17 as part of a 2.6-hour billing block. There was a call that day that lasted seven minutes. Likewise, there was a call to me on January 22 from Mr. Doug Carson, as part of a 3.2-hour block of billable time; that call lasted one minute and went to voicemail."

As part of Gosack's comments to The City Wire on May 22, he was asked whether the city audits billing from vendors such as Daily and Woods, to which he said bills are reviewed but not necessarily audited.

"I mean, we don't have staff that do that kind of review of all the invoices the city receives. The city receives hundreds if not thousands of invoices each month. We have no staff to go to each vendor and verify the source records behind the invoices. But the invoices are reviewed before they're paid."

Campbell responded and said, "…while you might not be able to cross-reference Daily & Woods’ phone charges with my bills, the city could probably have each employee listed on the invoice — from Mr. Richard Jones to Chief Kevin Lindsey, and so on — check to see if the number of calls claimed matches their general recollection.  After all, it was the nine claimed calls in November, when I was sure there hadn’t been that many, that initially tipped me off."

Reached for comment Wednesday (May 28) regarding Campbell's latest post and documentation he said backs up his claims, Communications Manager Tracy Winchell released the following statement: "The allegations that Mr. Campbell and the Blue Hog Report have made are serious and a records review is underway. Once that is concluded, the public is going to know the results of that review and what, if any, steps may be necessary to ensure the integrity of providing legal services on behalf of our citizens."