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The fee examiner keeping tabs on the bills of professionals working on Detroit’s municipal bankruptcy questioned charges submitted by lawyers at Dentons for media activities during the first three months of this year.
Dentons, which is representing a committee of city retirees, submitted nearly $3 million in total fee requests during the first quarter of 2014, according to the latest report from fee examiner Robert Fishman.
In filings made Tuesday, Fishman took issue with more than $67,000 that Dentons billed for tasks related to monitoring press reports, preparing summaries of coverage, and preparing and responding to press reports.
“The fee examiner questions the propriety of Dentons, a law firm, billing for all media activities undertaken,” Fishman wrote in monthly reports from January and February. He reiterated in March’s report that while some media activities fell within the scope of legal services—such as advising about press reports prepared by a client—others did not, like drafting entire press reports or reviewing newspaper articles on the bankruptcy.
The fees in dispute amount to a little more than 2 percent of the total Dentons billed for the quarter on the matter. So far, the firm has cumulatively billed $7.41 million since July 2013, when Detroit filed for bankruptcy.
Dentons partner Carole Neville defended the media-related fees on Wednesday in an interview with The Am Law Daily. (She assured us the city was not being billed for the call.)
“The press was a participant in this bankruptcy,” she said. “There is a story every single day about the Detroit bankruptcy in the local press. It was a vehicle for the city to set out its position.”
The city is paying Dentons to represent the official committee of retirees, even though the retirees and city officials have sometimes taken opposing positions. The committee has used the press to reach out to its constituents, which include more than 23,500 retirees and 7,000 beneficiaries, most of whom remain Detroit residents, Neville said.
Neville said that Dentons caught flak from mediators helping to negotiate the city’s restructuring plan, criticizing the retirees committee for not promoting how well it pushed back against proposed pension and health care cuts and the quality of the deal they were striking for retirees. “The mediators yelled at us, ‘Why aren’t you getting your story out?’” Neville said.
Fishman, a name partner at Shaw Fishman Glantz & Towbin in Chicago, was appointed U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes last August to review fees in Detroit’s Chapter 9 case. The Am Law Daily reached out to him Wednesday, but didn’t immediately hear back.
Other fees listed in the fee examiner’s quarterly report include Detroit’s lead bankruptcy counsel at Jones Day, which billed more than $5.5 million in the first two months of the year to bring the total amount the firm has billed the city for its work to more than $22 million.
Jones Day’s fee request for March has yet to be determined as the firm looks into Fishman’s concerns about the amount of time Jones Day billed for research on an objection to the restructuring plan as well as the firm’s high number of upper-level associates and partners billing in certain categories, according to March’s report.
As we’ve previously reported, the firm had come under fire from local politicians who claimed Jones Day’s relationship with emergency city manager Kevyn Orr, a former firm partner, could create conflicts of interest. The firm beat out 13 others in competitive bidding for the assignment.
Other fees of note among Am Law 200 firms working on the Detroit bankruptcy:
- Miller, Canfield, Paddock & Stone, serving as local cocounsel to the city, billed the city $884,652.50 in the first quarter of 2014, bringing its total to more than $2.3 million.
- Conflicts counsel Pepper Hamilton billed the city $601,416.45, bringing its total to $1.39 million.