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Aguirre files suits against law firm

  Breaking Legal News  -   POSTED: 2007/08/09 13:01

City Attorney Michael Aguirre picked a new legal fight for San Diego this week, filing two malpractice suits against a New York law firm that probed the city's financial failures and prepared a report on them a year ago. The lawsuits, which target a high-powered law firm that has handled billion-dollar deals for business clients, were filed without City Council approval. As a result, they will test not only Aguirre's legal strategies, but also new council limits on his ability to file lawsuits without authorization.

Aguirre alleges that Willkie Farr & Gallagher overbilled the city and essentially failed to follow terms of a contract to assist the risk-management firm Kroll Inc. with a project that became an 18-month, $20 million effort.

The suit alleges that the law firm duplicated much of Kroll's work, submitted inadequate bills to disguise that, and went beyond the scope of its agreement, in part by billing the city for “lobbying” meetings with The San Diego Union-Tribune editorial board and the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Partner Benito Romano, who led the New York law firm's engagement in San Diego, stood by the firm's work yesterday but declined further comment about the complaint because he hadn't seen it.

In a letter that spelled out its arrangement as “counsel and assistance” to Kroll, the law firm's duties are broadly said to include “other matters that . . . may require inquiry or investigation.”

The two complaints were filed in San Diego Superior Court and could be consolidated. One suit was filed on behalf of the city of San Diego and the other on behalf of California residents, although both basically seek the same results. Aguirre is demanding $29.2 million, a total that is triple the $9.7 million the city paid Willkie Farr & Gallagher.

Outside attorney Bryan Vess, who will work on a contingency basis, filed the lawsuits for Aguirre on Tuesday after Mayor Jerry Sanders and most City Council members had begun vacations timed with a monthlong August recess. Aguirre's office made them public yesterday in response to inquiries.

Councilwoman Toni Atkins was surprised by the filing and looked forward to hearing more about it in a briefing next month.

“I think the council would like to be part of the discussion,” Atkins said. “Which is not to say that we wouldn't agree with him, but we weren't given the chance.”

San Diego's legal bills began piling up after Aguirre was elected in 2004 on a vow to root out corruption at City Hall. Increasingly, the council has argued that it should authorize all of Aguirre's lawsuits because it controls spending, but Aguirre says as the lawyer for San Diego he can file suits as necessary.


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