Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Doyle Enriches Buddies With Our Money


With friends like these, deals twice as sweet
Last Updated: Nov. 15, 2003
Cary Spivak & Dan Bice

Just how cushy is one of the state deals landed by Gov. Jim Doyle's favorite law firm - Foley & Lardner? Last week, we told you about a couple of contracts given Foley by the Doyle team, but what we didn't know then was just how sweet one of those was and how many Foley lawyers were sharing the wealth, compliments of the Democratic governor. Here are the details, as shown in documents provided under the open records law: Foley, the silk-stocking Milwaukee law firm, has 16 people - including 12 attorneys - billing the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority up to $360 an hour for work on its lawsuit against a spinoff group over $86 million in housing money. The highest rate is being paid to Foley partner David Walsh, who has palled around since childhood with Doyle, who this year appointed Walsh to the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents. What are friends for, after all? Walsh is also a lifelong buddy of WHEDA Chairman Perry Armstrong and represents Armstrong's firm, Preferred Title. Overall, WHEDA has been billed nearly $319,000 by Foley and another $30,000 by Kasdorf, Lewis & Swietlik, a midsize Milwaukee firm, since the two firms were hired by WHEDA this year to battle the Wisconsin Housing Preservation Corp. That's on top of the work that Foley does as bond counsel for WHEDA - a gig it snatched from the firm of Michael Best & Friedrich, which had the deal since Tony Earl was governor. The Kasdorf firm has six lawyers working the case, meaning a total of 18 private attorneys have fed off the WHEDA trough on this matter. Asked why the agency's legal bills are so much higher than the other side's in the dispute, WHEDA's lawyer responded with an e-mail that didn't answer the question. "WHEDA cannot comment on the legal bills of the Wisconsin Housing Preservation Corp. without having had a chance to see them," wrote Mick Conrad. Conrad didn't even go through the motions of trying to answer our question about why his agency didn't require Foley to cap its fees, as Doyle's predecessors had done. He did say the lawyers were being paid out of WHEDA's general fund, which he said includes no tax dollars. Just so you know, the suit, which was filed in June, has not yet gone to trial. Heck, it's barely gotten out of the starting block. The two sides have had a couple of court hearings and are currently taking depositions, and WHEDA has turned over a ton of documents. The suit, no doubt, is a complicated one, as Housing Preservation officials are fighting to keep control of tens of millions of dollars, not to mention their own jobs. Ex-WHEDA boss Fritz Ruf is being paid $100,000 a year to oversee the non-profit that was spun off from WHEDA in the waning days of the Gov. Scott McCallum administration. For comparison's sake, Housing Preservation has five attorneys who have billed a little more than $91,000 - or about one-quarter of what WHEDA's been hit with - and the highest rate paid by the non-profit is $250 an hour. A spokesman for Housing Preservation noted that the full amount will be reimbursed by its insurance company. Ruf and Republican wheeler-dealer/Housing Preservation board member John Petersen III both have lawyered up, as well, and their mouthpieces are also being paid by the Housing Preservation insurance company. Those two lawyers refused to disclose what they are being paid, though sources say each attorney is billing about $200 to $220 an hour. WHEDA's lead lawyer on the case, William Conley, another Foley partner, is being paid $350 an hour and, so far, has put in for 360 hours for a total of $126,000. By comparison, the six Kasdorf lawyers are getting chump change - a mere $115 to $175 an hour. Wanna bet none of those guys shot hoops with a future governor when they were kids? The two previous administrations had required private attorneys to cap their fees at about half of the rate being paid Conley. Overall, Foley is billing at an average rate of $292 an hour for 906 hours of work on the case, on top of a $50,000 contract for work done earlier on this matter, plus expenses. As they say, it's not bad work - if the Doyle administration is willing to pay for it. But the Doyle-Foley relationship isn't a one-way affair. Campaign records show that in the past three years, Foley lawyers and their spouses have coughed up nearly $80,000 to the Doyle campaign. Walsh and his wife, alone, contributed $25,000 since October 1999. Ain't friendship a beautiful thing?

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