It was reported last week that Washington, D.C.-based law firm Brown and Peisch was recently awarded a contract to represent the state in the case at a rate of $575 an hour for legal fees.
Delegate Steele, an attorney, said the high billing rate gave him sticker shock.
“I’m deeply concerned that our state government has exclusively contracted with an out-of-state firm at such a high price,” Delegate Steele said. “I am going to be sending letters to Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, the Secretary of DHHR and Gov. Jim Justice asking for more details about this process. I want to know the reasoning behind how and why this happened because, as a lawyer, I can’t help but look at that and think, ‘That’s not right.’”
According to West Virginia Public Broadcasting, the state DHHR received five bidders for this case and narrowed the potential firms down based on experience before selecting what it said was the lowest bidder. Delegate Steele said he would like to review the request for proposals, the bids submitted and any other documentation related to the selection process to see why this one firm was selected.
“If there is a legitimate reason why the state selected an out-of-state firm exclusively for this litigation – for probably twice the cost of what in-state firms bill – then by all means, I think the people of West Virginia deserve to hear that answer,” Delegate Steele said.
Delegate Steele said there are a number of well-staffed law firms in this state that work in the foster care system on a daily basis, and he, as an attorney, did not see why they were not even considered to be a part of the state’s legal team. He’s also concerned about how a firm with no offices in West Virginia might affect the legal costs in this case.
“I’m concerned about whether they’ll be asking for reimbursements for travel costs and lodging for having to visit Charleston or other parts of the state to access documents or case materials,” Delegate Steele said. “I have some real budgetary concerns here, because this case is not something we anticipated in our budget process and could represent a significant cost for one of our largest state agencies.”
Delegate Steele said he would be making his requests for information from the various agencies involved in the coming days.