Redistricting lawyers take taxpayers’ dough

The legal fight over redistricting Plan 5 is all over but the shouting—and the billing.

The lawyers hired to represent the county factions that battled in court over Plan 5 late last year have submitted their final bills to Butte County administrators, and, from the looks of the invoices, the fiasco was good for their bottom lines.

In all, the county will spend just over $89,000 on the redistricting lawsuit. That breaks down to $46,500 for Fred Woocher (who represented defendant County Clerk Candace Grubbs), $41,600 for Chuck Bell (he’s the Sacramento attorney who represented the Board of Supervisors as plaintiffs) and $1,600 for Iris Yang, who reviewed the attorneys’ bills for Interim Chief Administrative Officer Lawrence Odle.

A three-member majority of the board filed the suit in November, after Grubbs refused to use the supervisorial boundaries set forth in redistricting Plan 5 for the March 5 election. The plan, she pointed out, was the target of a referendum and would be on the ballot that very Election Day. She claimed that it was effectively stayed by the referendum effort.

Bob Beeler, Curt Josiassen and Kim Yamaguchi disagreed, saying that the current boundaries were unconstitutionally out of balance and therefore illegal.

Superior Court Judge Roger Gilbert agreed with Grubbs on Dec. 6, dismissing the supervisors’ claims.

Although they lost in court, Bell, their lawyer, still gets paid handsomely. His first invoice, submitted early this month, caused quite a stir at the county, though, when it was noted that Bell claimed that he worked on the county’s behalf for 35 hours on one day, Nov. 21.

Asked to explain the obvious discrepancy, Bell noted in a Jan. 23 letter to Odle that the work credited to that single day was actually spread out over four days, from Nov. 21 to Nov. 24.

On the defensive about claims that Bell had padded his invoice, Yamaguchi and Josiassen called a press conference Monday afternoon, Jan. 28, to point out that Grubbs’s attorney, Woocher, had submitted an invoice without detailing what specifically was being billed.

The bills show that, during November and December, Woocher spent 142 hours working on Grubbs’ behalf, but the portion of the bills that spells out exactly what the time was used for is blacked out. That, Yamaguchi and Josiassen claimed, should raise eyebrows.

However, Woocher said the bill was purposely blacked out because it’s his firm’s practice to use the space to detail out specific legal theories and case law precedent, which is protected under attorney-client privilege.

“Never in my life have I seen anything like this, where the opponents in a case think they have the right to review our records like this,” he said. “… I think it’s a desperate effort for them to look for a scapegoat. I’d be looking for one, too, if I were an elected official who spent as much money as they did on a case like this.”

Woocher said he has offered to re-submit the bills—allowing access to the blacked-out parts—to a neutral third party (like the Grand Jury or Superior Court judges) for any investigation and review. “We have nothing to hide here,” he said.

Odle hired Yang, who works for the Sacramento law firm McDonough, Holland & Allen, specifically to review and approve all the invoices submitted in the redistricting case. Her final invoice is for $1,671, billed at the reduced rate of $205 an hour. Her usual fee is $275 an hour, according to county records.