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L.A. Now Live: Scrutinizing city attorney billings

August 6, 2012 |  6:00 am

As part on an ongoing series on city attorney compensation, The Times' Abby Sewell and Jessica Garrison examined how different cities paid different prices for the same legal service. As they reported Sunday:

A bond sale that hundreds of California cities signed up for two years ago was so streamlined that each city council approved the same set of documents and was not allowed to change a word of it.

But in one aspect of the transaction, there was a great deal of variation among cities: how much each city paid its attorneys to review the documents.

In Mill Valley, an upscale city in Marin County, officials said they paid nothing for legal services relating to the bond sale. Hermosa Beach paid its attorney $93.50 for a half-hour of his time. Upland, on the other hand, paid $746.20, and South El Monte, which is among the poorer cities in Los Angeles County, paid $3,625.

In fact, a Times review found that of dozens of cities surveyed, each one paid a different amount for lawyers to review the Proposition 1A securitization documents and sign off on a letter about them. In general, poorer cities paid more than richer ones, according to a Times analysis. The average bill from the Times survey was $713.

The bond letter offers a window into the byzantine world of municipal legal costs, which are a significant expense but often get little public scrutiny because much of the work is done behind closed doors under the cloak of attorney-client privilege.

Jessica Garrison will talk about the story at 9 a.m. Monday.

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