There have been 299 billing errors identified by Maricopa County in Arizona. Those errors were made by its former law firm Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak and Stewart. The county also said that those 299 errors could be ‘only the tip of the iceberg.’ On Monday, a proposed second amended complaint was filed by the county. The complaint details the 299 billing errors committed by the law firm. The 299 errors is an increase from the 36 alleged errors filed in an earlier version of the lawsuit.
The county has also complained that the law firm did not cooperate during an audit, the firm billed for unapproved services and the firm used subcontractor law firms that did not follow the county’s contract. The largest group of billing errors, 227 of them, was caused by Ogletree misclassifying 11 attorneys at higher experience levels than what was authorized by the contract, according to the proposed amended complaint.
A contract dated June 2010 specified rates for senior associates, senior partners, associates, partners that set the minimum years of experience needed for each category, according to the county. The contract allowed rates of $125 per hour for associates with one year of experience at the lowest to $250 per hour for senior partners with 12 years of experience. An earlier contract permitted the law firm to charge $275 per hour for all services performed by attorneys.
The complaint states that sometimes, Ogletree would bill associates as partners and senior partners. The complaint says that the mistakes were “so extensive, so frequent, and so systemic that the conclusion is inescapable that when the county implemented lower billing rates for attorneys on June 1, 2010, Ogletree’s Phoenix and national management made the decision to overcharge the county and thereby to lessen the effects upon Ogletree of the county’s new, reduced billing rate structure.”
The complaint proposed by the county alleges a breach of contract by the law firm, a breach of fiduciary duty and fraud. The complaint is seeking the status of class action since the firm billed other public sector clients improperly by saying law graduates were associates even though they had yet to pass the bar exam. The complaint mentions 37 billing instances where two non-attorney law graduates were listed as associates even though the contract banned such a practice. The complaint also lists the billing of 11 specialists. Those specialists included information technology specialists and librarians. The county claims that the law firm is only permitted to bill for paralegals and lawyers. The errors are reportedly worth over $300,000 while Ogletree says that the county owes the firm $1 million in unpaid legal bills. Ogletree has said it will refund the county for $78,000 in billing errors.