Last week, University of Oregon economics professor Bill Harbaugh filed a complaint with the Oregon State Bar, alleging Eugene lawyers Bill Gary and Sharon Rudnick misled a judge. Gary and Rudnick are partners at the Harrang Long Gary Rudnick law firm, which has been representing the UO administration in recent union negotiations.
The bar complaint (PDF) also alleges UO General Counsel Randy Geller of participating in the deceit by “use(ing) his public office” to withhold — and circumvent attempts to claim — public records regarding the event.
The accusations pertain to a circumstance in which Harbaugh believes the law firm was rewarded recompense in legal fees they were unable to accrue after suing the office of the attorney general for the mishandling of public records during a contract investigation that involved the son of Stan Long, who is one of HLGR’s founders.
After reviewing the case, a county judge mandated a $500,000 reimbursement to be paid to Long for fees he incurred while prosecuting his public records lawsuit. The judge added an extra 10 percent to the reimbursement for the positive impact the case made toward the handling of public records, making the total reimbursement $550,000.
According to Harbaugh, the issue lies in the numbers. Dave Frohnmayer — former UO president and current law professor working for HLGR — was compensated for his work at $550 an hour. Based on UO records, his legal fees in UO-related work range from $260-$270 per hour. According to HLGR, Frohnmayer’s standard legal fee for non-government clients is $550. However, HLGR offers a “significantly discounted” hourly rate for the university.
Harbaugh claims the increased rate described to the judge led to an exorbitantly high pay-out for missed opportunities.
In an email to Willamette Week, Portland’s alt-weekly paper, Gary claimed the fee difference instead stems from a discount agreement between HLGR and the UO — not an attempt to circumvent the Department of Justice.
“The Firm sometimes considers alternative fee arrangements based upon the nature or volume of work involved,” he wrote. “The Firm has agreed to perform work for the University at discounted rates. We are not aware of anyone other than Dr. Harbaugh who has expressed concern about our willingness to provide a discount to the University.”
Where the UO General Counsel is concerned, Harbaugh claims the affidavit Geller presented in support of HLGR’s claim for legal fees was inaccurate and a conflict of interest.
In the affidavit, Geller argues for the compensation of HLGR due to the opportunity they lost when he was unable to hire them to represent the UO in legal matters because of their participation in the original investigation.
The affidavit was signed in July of 2012. HLGR had been participating in UO union negotiations for the UO since February 2013.
Geller justified his statements in an email to Willamette Week, claiming that although HLGR was contracted to work on union matters in February — an issue that does not require state approval for choice of legal firm — he was unable to hire them to work on other state-regulated issues further along in the year because of the investigation case.
Harbaugh filed the complaint in an attempt to generate a critical review of the general counsel’s affairs.
“UO’s General Counsel and the HLGR attorneys worked together to try and get $860,000 for HLGR, from state taxpayers,” he said. “I thought that it was wrong for Randy Geller to go along with Bill Gary’s attempt to get that money, by not telling the judge about the substantial legal work he’d given HLGR on the faculty union. That seems pretty far below ‘the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth’…I wanted the bar to decide if these actions were ethical.”
Willamette Week reports that the the Bar is considering the complaint.