Illinois paid out nearly $26 million in legal fees during the last fiscal year, according to state financial records, a figure that included nearly $600,000 for Schiff Hardin LLP’s investigation of sexual harassment claims at the statehouse.
Like last year, employment law firm Laner Muchin LLP pickup the largest haul of any single firm, $1.9 million, for handling government appeals to the state Labor Relations Board and providing counsel on labor laws.
Data produced by the Illinois Comptroller’s Office also showed DLA Piper and Naperville plaintiffs’ attorney Robert H. Farley in the top 10 out of roughly 292 entities that were paid for legal services in fiscal year 2019, which ran from July 1, 2018, to June 30, 2019.
Aside from Laner, each of the firms in the top 10 were paid six-figure sums.
There are caveats in the data, which document when a check was cut, not necessarily when a legal service was provided.
The state is still lagging behind on some expenses for services provided during that year, and some payments for legal services aren’t tied to year-specific contracts — making it can be difficult to get precise totals for any given fiscal year.
Additionally, the state may increase or decrease payments to vendors throughout the life of a contract, which could also extend multiple years.
Still, records provided by the office pegged the total legal spending for FY 2019 at $25.51 million, about 3 million less than the previous fiscal year.
Schiff Hardin received $591,857.95 for investigating sexual harassment complaints in House Speaker Michael J. Madigan’s office. Madigan hired Schiff partner Margaret “Maggie” A. Hickey, a former federal prosecutor and state executive inspector general, to audit the speaker’s office’s handling of complaints about bullying and harassment by Madigan’s former chief of staff and others.
The contract, worth $625,738 during fiscal 2019, extended to complaints made to and against other House Democrats and included an “overall review of the procedures of the Office of the Speaker for handling such complaints” as well as providing for “advice and counsel” on the subject. Hickey was hired in June 2018 and released a 200-page report in August 2019, substantiating claims of bullying and inappropriate comments against ex-staffer Tim Mapes.
“During this investigation, Ms. Hickey interviewed more than 100 people, including current and former [s]peaker’s [o]ffice workers, legislators and others involved in Illinois politics and the Capitol workplace. Specifically, Ms. Hickey interviewed more than 80 current or former members of the [s]peaker’s [o]ffice — including workers on the [s]peaker’s [s]taff and in the Office of the Clerk of the House — and more than 12 representatives from the Democratic [c]aucus,” the executive summary stated.
“Ms. Hickey and the Schiff Hardin team also reviewed thousands of documents, including personnel files, emails, text messages and legislative transcripts and journals.”
Linda Yun, a Schiff Hardin spokesperson, said in an emailed statement, “As of today, March 18, we have billed the Office of the Speaker approximately $606,000 for work performed under the contract effective July 1, 2018 through June 30, 2019. Maggie Hickey has demonstrated tremendous leadership since joining Schiff Hardin as a partner two years ago, and her work continues to enhance our national white collar defense and investigations practice.”
DLA Piper was paid about $570,000 for “legal services and representation” of the Teachers’ Retirement System, the pension fund for public educators in Illinois outside Chicago. Like Schiff, DLA did not receive money through state contracts during fiscal 2018, according to the comptroller’s records. But a nine-month contract as well as a six-year contract on file with Teachers’ Retirement System during fiscal 2019 have lifetime values of roughly $616,181 and $3 million, respectively.
DLA Piper did not respond to a request for more information about the contracts. Similarly, a spokesperson for Laner Muchin did not respond to an inquiry about its work with the state.
Robert H. Farley Ltd., which was paid $191,919 in fiscal 2018, received $580,802 during fiscal 2019. Farley, along with the Legal Council for Health Justice ($287,467 in FY19) represented plaintiffs in a class-action case against the state Department of Healthcare and Family Services, alleging children eligible for in-home nursing services under Medicaid were not receiving those benefits.
A federal judge last year signed off on a consent decree in the case, O.B. v. Eagleson, ordering the state to pay fees and costs associated with the case.
Farley also represented plaintiffs in N.B. v. Norwood, a case on behalf of children under age 21 who were eligible for in-home and community-based mental health and behavioral services. A consent decree was entered in the case in January 2018.
“The N.B. payment was an installment payment, my payments were spread over three cycles, and this was the last installment in the N.B. case,” Farley said in an interview.
The Department of Healthcare and Family Services spent slightly more on legal fees than the previous year, with a $14.9 million expenditure in fiscal 2019 versus $14.6 million during fiscal 2018.
Much of that money is intergovernmental payments to individual counties for lawyers in child support cases. Payments to individual counties this year fell almost across the board, including $9.6 million for Cook County ($11.8 million in FY 2018), $606,373.81 for St. Clair County ($831,948 in FY 2018), $546,246 for Kane County ($679,462 in FY 2018) and $519,125 for DuPage County ($847,562 in FY 2018).
The next-closest agency for legal spending is the Department of Central Management Services’ $1.78 million, responsible for the state government’s human resources functions and facilities management duties.
The Teachers’ Retirement System ($946,220.56), the Secretary of State’s Office ($879,285.12) and the Department of Employment Security ($876,049.40) round out the top five.