Maricopa County, home of controversial former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, recently contested the legal fees submitted by Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak and Stewart P.C for work performed for the Sheriff and County Attorney’s Office over the past several years. The county is currently withholding $1.1 million in payment of the total $5 million billed by Ogletree and as of February has used $645, 578 of the $1.1 million to litigate issues related to Ogletree.
On the heels of dismissing their defamation lawsuit against Maricopa County, Ogletree also refunded $51,056 to Maricopa County for a “coding mistake” which resulted in a higher rate charged for an employee who had not yet received her state Bar license. Former County Manager David Smith has alleged in a State Bar ethics complaint that Ogletree has also improperly expanded the scope of assignments as well as duplicated legal services and billings. A judge has ordered Ogletree to cooperate with Maricopa’s audit of the firms’ billing practices; however, the two sides continue to haggle over how much information must be produced.
The battle for funds persists as both sides continue to request attorneys’ fees for the ongoing litigation. In December, Maricopa County received $7,546 in attorneys’ fees and costs after Ogletree attorneys failed to produce legal documents and appear at depositions. More recently, Ogletree requested $5,000 in attorneys’ fees after the county continued to issue notices for depositions after a protective ordered was granted suspending depositions.
The Maricopa-Ogletree dispute highlights the importance of accurately billing clients and provides a great example of how a simple “coding mistake” can cost a firm more than $50,000 in refunded remuneration. More importantly, the dispute illustrates the long-term impact improper billing can have in the form of audits and continuing litigation.