A Republican state legislator in Colorado is proposing a bill to restrict the ability of the state’s executive branch to hire outside counsel. The bill comes after an imbroglio arose last summer when Gov. Bill Ritter, a former Hogan & Hartson partner, hired his firm for legal work over lawyers from the state attorney general’s office.
The Am Law Daily reported in July on the controversial decision by Ritter to allegedly award Hogan a no-bid contract to retain the firm’s lawyers — at six times the cost of the $75 per hour offer by the state AG’s office — to handle legal matters related to the disbursement of federal stimulus funds.
“They thought we didn’t have the expertise or manpower,” deputy AG Geoff Blue told The Denver Post last July. “We could’ve gotten the job done. But we told them, ‘That’s your call,’ and we had nothing more to do with it.”
The Denver Post subsequently published an editorial defending Ritter’s decision to hire Hogan & Hartson, saying the firm’s expertise and resources were needed to adequately handle the various legal matters stemming from Colorado’s receipt of $8 billion in federal stimulus funds.
That didn’t convince state Sen. Ted Harvey, who remains unimpressed. Harvey is sponsoring a bill that would require the governor or chief justice to detail, in writing, the state’s need to hire outside lawyers instead of using state-funded counsel supplied by Attorney General John Suthers. Harvey acknowledges that it was Ritter’s hiring of Hogan last year that led to the proposed bill.
“We spent [thousands of dollars] to the governor’s former law firm to be able to do this service when the attorney general’s office most likely could have done it,” Harvey told State Bill Colorado.
Harvey was assisted by Suthers in drawing up the legislation, State Bill Colorado reports, but the attorney general remains on the sidelines when it comes to offering his political support for the proposal.
The bill itself will not prevent the state from hiring third-party lawyers, but it will force public officials to provide written disclosures explaining the need for outside legal assistance in place of government resources.
Ritter’s ties to Hogan & Hartson still run deep. In December, he reappointed Hogan partner and eight-year EPA veteran Andrew Spielman to serve another term as chairman of the state’s Regional Air Quality Council.
Harvey hopes to have bipartisan support for his legislation, but knows that with Ritter being a Democrat, he could face opposition from across the aisle.
The bill is scheduled to be heard by Colorado’s Senate State Affairs committee sometime next week. Given the longstanding ties between law firms and politicians, we suspect this one won’t be going too far.
This article first appeared on The Am Law Daily blog on AmericanLawyer.com.