Illinois paid out nearly $30 million in legal fees during the last fiscal year, according to state financial records, with employment law firm Laner Muchin LLP getting the largest haul of any single firm at about $1.7 million.
Data produced by the Illinois Comptroller’s Office also showed the firms of Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP and Burke Burns and Pinelli Ltd. in the top 10 out of roughly 275 entities that were paid for legal services in Fiscal Year 2018, which started on July 1, 2017. Each of the firms in the top 10 were paid six-figure sums.
There are some caveats in the data. The state is lagging behind on making some payments for services provided during that year, and some payments for legal services aren’t tied to year-specific contracts, so 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.
Still, records provided by the office pegged the total legal spending for FY2018 at $28.85 million.
Laner Muchin’s largest single contract was for labor relations work, including handling government appeals to the State Labor Relations Board and providing counsel on labor laws. The firm was paid nearly $1.5 million for that type of work through two contracts with Central Management Services.
A spokesperson for the firm did not respond to a request for comment on the expenses.
The bulk of Morgan Lewis’ pay, more than $326,000 in FY2018, came from representing former state treasurer Dan Rutherford in wrongful-termination lawsuits filed against his office by former employees alleging they were fired for taking part in a sexual harassment probe of their then-boss.
The description of the contract provided by the comptroller’s office states that attorney Daniel T. Fahner was hired as a special attorney general to defend Rutherford in Michalowski v. Rutherford and Daglas, et al. v. Rutherford. The firm was paid a total of $466,454 during the fiscal year, according to the comptroller’s office.
A spokeswoman for Morgan Lewis could not be reached for comment on the payments.
Hinshaw & Culbertson was paid roughly $617,000 during the fiscal year to provide legal services for agencies such as the State’s Attorney’s Appellate Prosecutor’s Office, Central Management Services and the Department of Corrections.
Burke Burns and Pinelli Ltd. was paid for providing counsel to agencies such as the Illinois Board of Investments and the Illinois Board of Higher Education. Altogether, the firm earned $454,480.10 from the state during the fiscal year.
Payments from the investments board were for “legal counsel relating to general operations and investments,” according to the comptroller’s data, and “a number of areas related to IBHE [Illinois Board of Higher Education] functions.”
Far and away, the state agency that spent the most for legal services was the Department of Healthcare and Family Services, which paid out nearly $14.6 million in FY2018.
A significant chunk of that legal change goes to individual counties to employ attorneys for child support cases. The largest such expenditure was roughly $11.8 million for Cook County, followed by Lake County ($920,163), DuPage County ($847,562) and St. Clair County ($831,948).
A department spokesman noted those contracts are intergovernmental agreements that allow services and activities on the local level.
The Department of Central Management Services, which is responsible for the state government’s human resources functions, along with facility and property management duties, paid out the next highest amount at $2.6 million in FY2018.
In addition to the Laner Muchin payments, CMS also paid Noelle Brennan & Associates Ltd. and Gair Law Group for their services enforcing the Shakman decree, a 1972 federal court order that prohibits politically-driven hiring and firing.
The State’s Attorneys Appellate Prosecutor’s Office, which had contracts with individual attorneys as well as counties, was third in terms of agency legal contract spending at about $965,000.
Patrick Delfino, director of the prosecutor’s office, said about $247,000 of that is grant money from the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority and funds local narcotics prosecutions. He also said some payments went to firms for special labor work in various counties, but the counties reimburse the agency for those services. Some payments also went to special prosecutors, some of whom are former state's attorneys on contracts that cost less than hiring full-time prosecutors, Delfino said.