As reported in the Buffalo News, since 2006 when Byron Brown became Mayor of Buffalo records show the Hodgson Russ law firm has earned $4 million in city legal fees, more than the next three highest-paid firms hired by the city combined.
Why does Hodgson Russ get so much of the city’s business? “Experience, resources and results,” Acting Corporation Counsel David Rodriguez said. Rodriguez said the firm’s financial support of the mayor has no influence on his decision-making. Through a spokesman, Mayor Brown declined to comment on his friendship with Hodgson Russ attorney Adam Perry. The Mayor said the city uses Hodgson Russ because the firm has “specialized expertise” to deal with a variety of legal matters.
Daniel Oliverio (Chairman of Hodgson Russ) said many law firms donate money to candidates because they’re trying to “ensure that people we feel are good officeholders can continue their work in the community.” “We don’t have to buy business … there’s no pay-to-play,” Oliverio said. “People hire us because we’re really good at what we do.”
Others suggest law firms donate to politicians to curry favor and boost business.
“They may be an excellent law firm, but you don’t give that kind of money ($24,275 over the past several years) to a candidate unless you think it’s going to benefit you in some way,” responded David Franczyk, now in his 25th year on the Buffalo Common Council.
As Chief of Staff to the Buffalo Common Council for four years and General Counsel to the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority for three years, I agree with Councilmember Franczyk that politics and money play a big role in why Hodgson and Russ gets more business than almost all other law firms with government contracts combined.
The proper way to award government business to law firms is to solicit competition by issuing Requests for Proposals and having a panel of government employees select a firm based on price and qualifications. The City of Buffalo issue very few Requests for Proposals for law firms. What usually happens when legal assistance is needed is that a phone call is made directly to Adam Perry and the business is awarded to Hodgson & Russ without any other firms having a fair chance to compete.
The business going to Hodgson & Russ has very little to do with their “specialized expertise” and everything to do with politics, friendships and campaign contributions. A big part of it is also having the trust to discuss political concerns with a lawyer who understands how the game is played, as former Buffalo News reporter Jim Heaney explains in his post on this issue.
To end business as usual where employees and government business is doled out based on patronage and money, a City Manager form of government needs to be implemented in Buffalo and a City Ordinance needs to be passed that bans government contractors from making political contributions. The Buffalo Common Council has provided lip service to studying the idea of implementing a City Manager form of government by passing a Resolution calling for the formation of a commission to explore the idea but a commission has not been formed. Ordinances banning campaign contributions by government contractors have been enacted in other cities. We just need a Councilmember who is willing to challenge the status quo by introducing a Resolution to end campaign contributions to city officials by government contractors. The federal government has banned campaign contributions by government contractors for many years now.
What steps if any do you think should be taken to spread government legal contracts around to other law firms?