One year after Hurricane Harvey hit Texas, dumping rain that resulted in massive flooding in Houston, voters in Harris County overwhelmingly approved $2.5 billion in bonds for flood-prevention projects—an effort supported by pro bono work from public finance lawyers at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe.
The Orrick pro bono team, led by senior counsel Bob Collie, advised the Harris County Attorney’s Office on the Aug. 25 special election for the bonds, and also worked with the Fight Flooding Political Action Committee, which Collie said raised about $1.35 million to promote the bond votes.
The Orrick team was “very helpful, as they always are,” said Douglas Ray, managing attorney of the public law practice group at the Harris County Attorney’s Office.
Collie, a former Houston city attorney, said he and other public finance lawyers he works with have long done work for Harris County on bond elections and public finance. The firm’s work on the flood-prevention bonds was worth at least $50,000, said Todd Brewer, an Orrick public finance partner who also worked on the project.
Collie said that after Gov. Greg Abbott on May 7 approved the Aug. 25 special bond election, Orrick started working with the West Houston Association, a regional business group, on the Fight Flooding PAC. They also gave advice to Harris County about the special election, which can be complicated in Texas because of many requirements under federal voting rights laws, such as providing notice to the public in English, Spanish, Vietnamese and Mandarin.
Collie said the Orrick team helped the PAC with record-keeping and met with in-house lawyers at a half-dozen companies in Houston that wanted details of how the PAC money would be used to support the bond election.
He said much of the money was spent on direct mail targeting likely voters, and some local radio and television advertisements.
Also, the Harris County Flood Control District held 23 public meetings to inform voters of what projects the bond money would support and to get their input on how the money should be spent. Collie said Orrick assisted county officials at those meetings and in preparing summaries of suggestions from the public.
Collie said the special election was on a very fast track between the May 7 authorization by the the governor and the designated election day. Results were favorable, with 86 percent of voters approving the bonds. Ray said he expects Harris County will hire Orrick lawyers to assist with public finance work as the bonds are sold over the next few years.
Orrick has quickly built a public finance group in Texas totaling more than 25 lawyers. Brewer joined the firm in 2016, shortly after the California-based firm opened its Houston office. In February, Collie joined Orrick as part of a group of six public finance lawyers who left Andrews Kurth Kenyon before its merger with Hunton & Williams. Another 14 Andrews Kurth public finance lawyers joined Orrick’s Texas offices shortly afterward.
In addition to Collie and Brewer, other Orrick public finance lawyers who helped with the flood-prevention bonds include senior counsel Gene Locke—another former Houston city attorney— as well as partner Adrian Patterson and managing associate Ben Morse.