JEFFERSON – An audit report published Dec. 12 by the Jefferson Parish Office of the Inspector General (JPOIG) revealed that the Jefferson Parish Finance Authority (JPFA) paid legal bills that did not detail the services provided.
“The inspector general’s report highlights a range of issues that should be deeply troubling to taxpayers, not the least of which is the Jefferson Finance Authority’s unusual practice of hiring outside legal counsel without written contract or making payments to these contractors without proper documentation of their work.” Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch executive director Melissa Landry told the Louisiana Record.
JPOIG reported that JPFA paid a total of $555,000.48 in professional services payments for fiscal years 2015 and 2016. A total of $104,000 of those payments were made to The Konrad Law Firm in connection with a monthly retainer, a Freddie Mac program and bond rollup fees. Gordon R. Konrad is JPFA’s general counsel.
“A review of all invoices for calendar year 2016 shows that Konrad was paid a monthly retainer fee of $3,500 without any demonstration of hours spent or a detailed description of work performed,” which violates state guidelines regarding billing requirements, the report said.
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In addition to the monthly retainer, the report said JPFA paid Konrad $20,000 for work related to the Freddie Mac program and three bond retirements “without adequate supporting documentation.”
“Overall, Konrad was paid $104,000 by the JPFA for services over a two-year period, including $20,000 in payments above the executed contract,” the report said. “The JPOIG confirmed that the attorney did not keep any detailed records of time and work performed for the JPFA.”
The report also showed that $93,723.75 of JPFA’s professional services payments went to The Becknell Law firm in connection with the Freddie Mac program, bond rollup fees and professional legal fees.
“The JPFA engaged Robert Konrad’s wife and father-in-law, Allison Becknell and J. William Becknell, II, of the Becknell Law Firm … to act as special counsel and to provide legal advice on bond programs,” the report said. “This firm also does not keep internal records on its work billed to the JPFA.”
Since Konrad also reviewed advice given by the Becknell attorneys, the report said, “the general counsel is paid, in addition to his retainer agreement, to provide legal opinions on bond retirements and issuances done on the advice and counsel of his wife and father-in-law.”
Landry agreed with the JPOIG’s assertion that the JPFA bill payment practice is illegal.
“The use of written contracts to spell out the relationship between the authority and their publically contracted legal counsel is not only common sense, it is the law,” Landry said. “The disclosure of all relevant terms and conditions, including hourly rates and potential conflicts of interest, is imperative to ensuring transparency and integrity.”
Landry encouraged state officials to “continue to keep a close eye on this issue in the coming months.”
“If the authority is unable or unwilling to put the necessary checks and balances in place to remedy this situation appropriately, they should take action to do it for them,” Landry said.