L-R: Todd Silliman & Bruce P. Brown
L-R: Todd Silliman & Bruce P. Brown (John Disney/Staff)

Georgia’s longtime outside counsel for water disputes announced today that they are stepping down.

Bruce Brown, a solo practitioner, and Todd Silliman, a partner at McKenna, Long & Aldridge, said the longevity and demands of fighting Georgia’s water wars with Alabama and Florida precipitated their decision.

“We’ve been working on this for 15 years and most will understand that’s an awful long time for a case that’s this demanding,” Silliman said. “I don’t bemoan having worked on it, but it is highly demanding. It’s not something you can delegate down or not have more senior and experienced people deeply involved in. And it’s of such importance that when something happens, it requires front burner attention. So by necessity, it does take time away from other things that you could be pursuing.”

Those other things could also be more profitable. The state was paying Brown and Silliman, who were initially hired in 1999, $225 an hour. The Daily Report’s annual review of billing rates listed in publicly-available documents showed that in 2011, Silliman was charging $475 per hour.

Brown, a former McKenna partner, and Silliman defended Georgia under three different governors against multiple challenges brought by Alabama and Florida, which also involved the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. During their tenure, they have handled nine cases in the federal trial courts, eight cases in the U.S. Court of Appeals and three certiorari petitions to the U.S. Supreme Court, according to a news release from McKenna. The two were also part of a team that obtained a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit that Lake Lanier is authorized for water supply, and they won the dismissal of federal lawsuits by Alabama, Alabama Power and other parties against the Corps that challenged the operation of Lake Allatoona.

Last year, the water dispute took a turn when Florida filed an original jurisdiction action with the Supreme Court, arguing that Georgia is illegally depleting the Apalachicola River and Bay and hurting Florida’s oyster harvest. In response, the state Attorney General’s Office brought on former U.S. Solicitor General Seth Waxman—who was lead counsel for Georgia on the Eleventh Circuit case—and Washington firm Kirkland & Ellis to lead Georgia’s defense in that case and to assist in the ongoing water cases. Brown and Silliman were among a number of lawyers who also applied to be lead counsel on the pending action.

Waxman’s flat fee is $150,000 and Kirkland & Ellis’ is $200,000 for the initial phases of work, the AG’s office said in October.

Brown and Silliman said their to step down had more to do with timing and nothing to do with the state’s decision to bring on new counsel.

“So everyone understands, this is an amicable transition,” said Silliman. “The state is in good shape. We leave it in good hands.”

With the previous litigation with Alabama and Florida having concluded for now in Georgia’s favor, and the Supreme Court’s decision on whether to take up Florida’s original jurisdiction matter still far off, Brown pointed out that now is a more placid time to end representation of the state.

The AG’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment, though AG Sam Olens’ spokeswoman said he will issue a statement this afternoon. Gov. Nathan Deal’s executive counsel, Ryan Teague, could not be reached for comment.

In a separate development, on Monday, Deal issued a statement applauding the Supreme Court for seeking input from the U.S. solicitor general’s office before deciding on Florida’s motion to move forward with its original jurisdiction action.

“Florida’s previous unsuccessful lawsuits cost both states millions of dollars and obstructed meaningful natural resource planning for more than 20 years,” Deal said in a written statement. “After more than two decades, we are finally on the verge of having the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers formally update water control manuals, which will inform how best to operate the federal reservoirs to the benefit of upstream and downstream communities alike. Florida is yet again trying to circumvent this process. The Supreme Court’s decision to look carefully into this matter before granting Florida’s motion is good news for Georgians, as I am hopeful that Solicitor General [Donald] Verrilli will agree that at a minimum the water control manuals be updated first. Florida’s decision to take this aggressive action in the Supreme Court is premature at best, and we welcome the opinion of Solicitor General Verrilli going forward.”