Friday, March 13, 2009

Lawmakers Seek Oversight of Government Attorney Contracts

State lawmakers voted today to increase oversight of government contracts awarded to private attorneys.
House Bill 2167, by state Rep. Mark McCullough, would create the “Private Attorney Retention Sunshine Act.” The bill would require state agencies to use a more transparent, competitive legal service solicitation process when services (fees and expenses) are expected to exceed $5,000.

“This legislation will provide extra safeguards to prevent Oklahoma taxpayers from footing the bill for overpriced legal services,” said McCullough, a Sapulpa Republican and attorney. “It’s just common sense: If you have an open bidding process, it will drive down prices. Currently, the public perception is that it’s too easy for politically connected law firms to get contracts outside a bidding process, which opens the door for those firms to jack up their prices. In a year when we face a budget shortfall, it doesn’t make any sense to leave the door open for government waste.”

The bill would require agencies to issue and publicly post a Request for Proposals for legal services and then publicly list all attorneys and law firms that are awarded contracts.

Under the bill, if a proposed contracts for legal services is expected to exceed $500,000, state agencies would be required to file a copy with the governor’s office. The governor would 30 days to review and recommend changes to the proposed contract. If no changes are recommended, the contract could then be executed. If changes are recommended, the agency would have to review them and, if those changes were not incorporated, agency officials would then have to explain their decision.

At the conclusion of any legal proceeding where a state agency has retained outside counsel on a contingency-fee basis, the bill also requires the lawyer to provide a statement of hours worked on the case, expenses incurred, the aggregate fee amount, and a breakdown as to the hourly rate based on hours worked divided into fee recovered, less expenses.

House Bill 2167 passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives on a 59-41 vote today. It now proceeds to the state Senate.

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