Winners in MetroLink Suit Seek $27 Million in Legal Fees

St. Louis Post-Dispatch – Copyright 2007
By William C. Lhotka

ST. LOUIS COUNTY — Thirty-seven lawyers who defeated the Metro public transportation agency’s efforts to hold their clients responsible for light rail construction woes have submitted claims for $27.3 million in fees and expenses against the transit agency.

If St. Louis County Presiding Judge Carolyn C. Whittington approves the bills at a hearing Wednesday, it would bring the liability for taxpayers or transit riders to almost $30.7 million. The figure includes a $2.6 million judgment and almost $770,000 in interest.

But that’s without counting Metro’s own legal expenses in the failed suit against the Cross County Collaborative. Metro attorneys say its costs have not been calculated yet.

In one of many documents filed with Whittington, collaborative lawyers said Metro attorneys had spent $17.5 million in legal fees and costs by Oct. 5. The 100-day trial ended with nine jury verdicts against Metro almost two months later, on Nov. 30.

Metro used lawyers from three local firms. The defense had 10 firms from four states.

Metro had hired the collaborative for design and construction management of the MetroLink light rail train line extension to Clayton and Shrewsbury from Forest Park. The agency later sued the collaborative for $81 million, alleging that breach of contract, negligence and fraud caused cost overruns and delays.

The collaborative denied blame and countersued for payments it said were still owed.

Less than a week after Metro lost the case, its president, Larry Salci, and general counsel, M. Celeste Vossmeyer, resigned under fire.

Summaries of the lawyer bills, backed by thousands of pages of time sheet entries and expense reports, are held in a large cardboard box in the judge’s chambers in Clayton.

The 37 defense lawyers represented the joint venture itself and its four member companies that Metro fired in August 2004 and sued a day later: Parsons Brinckerhoff, Jacobs Civil Inc., STV Inc. and Kwame Building Group.

Parsons Brinckerhoff and STV are based in New-York. Jacobs swallowed up Sverdrup Corp., of St. Louis, in 1999 and is headquartered in Pasadena, Calif. Kwame is locally owned and operated.

“The contracts contain mutual promises by the parties that the fees would be given to the prevailing party in litigation,” according to a memorandum by the collaborative in support of the fee payments. “The five defendants now ask the Court to compel Metro to honor that promise and give defendants the benefit of their bargain.”

Documents in the case show that the St. Louis firm of Greensfelder, Hemker & Gale employed 17 lawyers, who charged hourly rates from $90 to $365, two paralegals and five support personnel. It represented the collaborative and was the lead firm throughout the proceedings.

The legal bills for Greensfelder date to Nov. 20, 2003, when partner Tim Thornton, one of the lead trial attorneys, reviewed a default letter that Metro had sent to the joint venture. That was nine months before Metro fired the companies.

Between that date in 2003 and Oct. 31, 2007, the 17 Greensfelder lawyers racked up almost 54,175 hours of work that filled 1,673 pages of documents and amounted to $10,748,418.

Added to the Greensfelder tab are bills for the last month of the trial, along with $209,749 for Steve Cockriel of Cockriel and Christofferson, and $163,541 to a former Missouri Supreme Court judge, Ronnie White, of Holloran, White & Schwartz.

Greensfelder also submitted bills of more than $4.5 million that were paid to experts: Two who testified and two who didn’t. Expenses for the law firm totaled more than $1.37 million.

The case had required the taking of sworn statements from engineers and experts and former Metro employees who had moved elsewhere. As a result, many lawyers submitted travel expenses for New York, Chicago, Dallas, Boston, Washington, Minneapolis, Seattle and Charlotte.

DLA Piper US is an Atlanta law firm that Parsons Brinckerhoff hired. Its lead counsel at the trial was Mark Grantham. Records show three other Piper lawyers, a paralegal and three support staff worked on the case. Grantham called the $4,611,591 that his firm seeks “fair and reasonable for the type of litigation.”

Jacobs Civil hired Keesal, Young and Logan of Long Beach, Calif. That firm submitted bills for three lawyers and two paralegals.

Samuel A. Keesal charged $695 an hour; Albert E. Peacock III, who did most of the trial work, $465 an hour. Peacock said the case was “billed at the firm’s standard rates for complex, commercial litigation.”

Before Keesal Young, a law firm in San Francisco represented Jacobs. Thelen, Reed, Brown, Raysman and Steiner has submitted bills and legal fees for three lawyers and costs totaling $687,258.

The combined fees and costs that Jacob Civil submitted were $2,971,150.

STV was represented by the Clayton firm of Dowd & Bennett. STV’s submitted bill was $1,989,392. Former U.S. Attorney Edward L. Dowd said he worked 924.9 hours on the case; his partner, James E. Bennett, 2,071.15 hours. Two attorneys in their office also worked on the case.

Included in the STV bill is $99,575 for David Halem, a New York lawyer who helped with an aborted mediation effort.

Mary Nelson and Kwame Thompson of Kwame Building, and Jay L. Kanzler Jr. of Witzel and Kanzler of Richmond Heights, represented Kwame and are seeking $102,676 in legal fees and costs.

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