The city of Lakeland paid $363,000 in legal fees and expenses to 13 outside law firms and individual attorneys during the last three months of 2021, according to the city attorney’s office.
The quarterly expense report presented to Lakeland city commissioners Monday “reflects the decision we made” years ago to contract for legal services from outside law firms rather than hire more full-time city attorneys, City Manager Shawn Sherrouse said.
The costs and number of firms and individual attorneys hired by the city also reflects the complexity and variety of issues that require specific legal expertise “beyond the scope” of most city attorneys, he said.
Commissioner Mike Musick said contracting with outside experts to handle specific legal issues as they occur also allows city attorneys to be more available and responsive to residents’ concerns and queries.
The city’s legal office is currently staffed by City Attorney Palmer Davis and Assistant City Attorneys Ramona Sirianni and Jerrod Simpson.
Davis, 57, was named city attorney in January 2020 following the October 2019 resignation of City Attorney Tim McCausland after he was arrested on suspicion of “precursor acts facilitating prostitution.”
Davis, a member of the Florida Bar for 32 years and a Lakeland legal staff member for nearly two decades, was named city attorney with an annual $165,000 salary plus a $5,400-a-year vehicle allowance and 2.5% annual raises.
Sirianni manages legal matters involving Lakeland Electric, red light cameras, Nuisance Abatement Board and court litigation claims. Simpson primarily deals with land-use issues. Both earn about $135,000 annually with 2.5% annual raises.
About one-third of the quarter’s legal invoice was a $121,337.78 bill filed by the Campbell, Trohn, Tamayo & Aranda law firm in Lakeland, which defends the city in personal Injury and auto accident claims.
GrayRobinson’s Lakeland office also handled litigation for the city, submitting a $64,136.24 quarterly bill. Among its cases was Southern War Cry’s lawsuit against the city two years ago for removing the 110-year-old statue memorializing Confederate soldiers from Munn Park.
Vecchio, Carrier & Feldman P.A. of Lakeland represents the city in workers compensation matters and submitted a $51,698.35 quarterly invoice.
Tampa-based Allen Norton & Blue charged the city $36,638.85, and Constangy, Brooks & Smith LLC of Lakeland $33,275 for representing the city in union, labor and arbitration matters.
Boswell & Dunlap of Bartow filed a $29,325.37 invoice for representing the Lakeland Police Department and the city in a C. Lobello Civil Service Board appeal hearing.
Tallahassee-based Holland & Knight LLP, which has 35 offices across the United States, Europe and Latin America, submitted a $12,015 invoice for handling the city’s negotiations with Germany-based MAN Energy Solutions to supply natural gas-fired generators to replace Lakeland Electric’s coal-fired unit in July. The deal comes with a 10-year service contract.
Sugarman & Susskind of Coral Gables submitted an $8,077.50 bill for counsel related to employee pension plans, and the city paid Tampa-based Carlton Fields $2,262 for advice on retirement plans and employee benefits.
Mary Greenwood, a family law attorney from Brandon, was paid $1,636.94 to attend a federal mediation and conciliation service hearing on behalf of the city.
Tampa-based Gunster was paid $1,102.50 to review the McIntosh Power Plant’s compliance with federal coal combustion residuals rules; Lakeland attorney Gail Cheatwood $675 for defending “miscellaneous city ordinances”; and Miami-based Berger Singerman $805 to review modification of McIntosh Power Plant Unit 3’s site certification.