SUMMARY:Tuscaloosa County paid $265,613 to Rosen Harwood, the law firm where Spence works, for legal services last fiscal year. From that, Spence was paid $137,900, based on an hourly rate of $150, which is fairly low for an experienced attorney. The county’s overall legal costs are in line with similarly-sized counties in Alabama .
ANALYSIS: The Tuscaloosa County Commission paid $265,613 for legal services over the last fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30. Most of that work went to Rosen Harwood, the law firm where Robert Spence is works.
According to a receipt allocation report provided by Spence, his earnings for work performed for the county were $137,940, billed at an hourly rate of $150.
The county’s budget for legal services for this fiscal year is $425,000, the same figure that has been set aside to handle legal matters for at least the past two budget cycles.
“You never know what’s going to happen,” said Tuscaloosa County Finance Director Bill Lamb, “so I try to make sure I’ve got enough in there.”
Commission Chairman Hardy McCollum said Spence’s rate was negotiated and agreed upon. Spence said the $150-an-hour rate was increased from $125-an-hour about four years ago.
“His bills are scrutinized pretty carefully from that standpoint,” McCollum said.
Spence provides services for not only the County Commission’s needs, but also legal work performed for the Tuscaloosa County Sheriff’s Office, the Public Works Department, the offices of the Probate Judge, the Tax Collector, the Tax Assessor, the Department of Community Corrections, the county’s License Commission Office, the Voter Registrar, the county’s Civil Service Board, the Solid Waste Department and the county’s Juvenile Detention Office.
By comparison, Tuscaloosa City Attorney Bob Ennis earned $135,000 in fiscal 2010 while the city of Tuscaloosa, who along with Ennis has a legal staff of eight attorneys, shelled out more than $1.3 million on legal fees and expenses.
The county’s Board of Education, a separate legal entity from the County Commission , pays approximately $200,000 at an hourly rate of $150, said Ray Ward, the attorney for the Tuscaloosa County Board of Education.
Ward’s counterpart for the city’s Board of Education, Dave Ryan, bills at a rate of $195 an hour. He said that’s a discount of his normal $275 hourly rate. Depending on the kind of legal work performed during any given year, Ryan said his law firm’s charges to the city board range from less than $300,000 to more than $400,000.
Like with Ward and Spence, those payments don’t go straight into the lawyers’ pockets. They are paid by their firms, which have overhead costs for maintaining an office and support staff.
Around the state, Shelby County paid about $300,000, at a rate of $160-an-hour, for legal services in the year just ended, according to Finance Manager Butch Burbage. Shelby County ’s population of 193,000 is close to Tuscaloosa County ’s population of 184,000, according to the latest data from the U.S. Census.
In Lee County , population 139,000, the county’s legal fees in fiscal 2010 were $22,362 said County Administrator Roger Rendleman. That was the cost paid to its county attorney at a rate of $125. But the reason it’s so low, Rendleman explained, is because Lee County , like many of Alabama ’s counties, participate in the Association of County Commissions of Alabama ’s Liability Self-Insurance Fund. Lee County ’s premiums to participate in this program were more than $348,000, Rendleman said.