I know this sounds like a bad movie coming out of Cancun, but it is not. It is right in our own backyard. In an article titled, "Private Lawyers Cost State Millions," the San Diego Union-Tribune reported that the Attorney General's Office is so understaffed that the state is having to outsource legal costs totaling more than $24 million.
They do this by signing contracts with private lawyers because the Attorney General's Office is too shorthanded to take the jobs. This tab that has been racked up goes back to January 2008 and much of it lies with the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Some of these private lawyers even command hourly rates that reach $450 an hour, which in some instances is nearly double that of in house lawyers.
While the Attorney General's Office claims "we have no control over the number of lawsuits or the timing of lawsuits", one has to wonder what exactly is going on. The AG's office has 1,000 lawyers. Why is that the office has to spend the taxpayer's money on outside counsel? How is that counsel hired and what possible conflicts of interest might they have if any? This is not a problem just limited to our state, just ask Governor Ed Rendell in Pennslyvania.
Maybe the AG's office needs to be audited and reorganized to better deal with these issues. And considering the article in the Tribune only focused on this Department, how deep does this well go? I would hate to think how much litigation Caltrans is involved in.
California CALA has looked into prisoner litigation and the indirect and direct costs to the state are staggering. We have also looked into and are updating the cost of outside counsels to other branches of government. Taxpayers should be extremely concerned about this issue of private attorney contracting.
The larger question is how much is litigation costing the State of California? Are we going on the offense against litigation or are we playing defense? In these economic times we need to go on the offense and watch out for taxpayer money.
Cross-posted at foxandhoundsdaily.com.