Up, up and away go the Madison County commissioners’ attorney fees.
From $171,594 in 2016 to $397,395 last year. That’s an increase of 132% over a four-year span.
How high can they go?
Through the first six months of 2020, the commissioners’ attorney fees are $319,640, putting them on a pace to spend $638,920 before the year is over.
What in the name of inflation is going on here?
Well, most obviously, the cost of legal representation skyrocketed in 2019, when the commissioners traded in their previous counsel, the Elwood law firm of Jeff Graham, for the Indianapolis firm of Bose McKinney & Evans.
In 2019, commissioners paid the Indy firm $397,935, an increase of 71% in a single year. That seemed astounding at the time. But compared to the 2020 spending projection, it’s a mere pittance.
This year’s pace, if it’s sustained, would ratchet spending on attorney fees up from $171,594 in 2016 all the way to $638,920. That would represent a whooping 272% in just five years.
Attorney fees have been inflated in 2020 somewhat by the commissioners’ defense against a lawsuit over redistricting. Those costs account for much of the outstanding bill of $171,515 for legal representation that has triggered a debate between commissioners and the Madison County Council over appropriations.
We shudder to think of future years — but we will anyway. If that spending increase were to persist over the next five years, the commissioners would be billing taxpayers for nearly $1.74 million in attorney fees by 2025.
Maybe we’re missing something here. Maybe there are other legal fees that aren’t apparent from past years. Perhaps Boze McKinney & Evans is handling more of the work that would have prompted Graham to call in outside counsel, and those fees aren’t included in these numbers.
The Indy law firm was tapped after Kelly Gaskill became president of the three-person Board of Commissioners. The firm was hired despite the fact that its hourly fee is $450, compared to Graham’s $250.
Why, exactly, was a more expensive law firm hired? Why are we paying the firm so much?
The taxpayers of Madison County deserve answers and also deserve a commitment to rein in spending on legal counsel.
Yes, the commissioners need good legal representation to protect the county against litigation.
But there won’t be much left to protect if attorney fees keep climbing by hundreds of thousands of dollar each year.