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Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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North Florida Broadband Authority:
A Lawyer's Dream. A Look At The Numbers

Lake City, FL – The North Florida Broadband Authority, the consortium of 15 North Central Florida Rural Counties and 8 Cities in partnership with U.S. Department of Commerce, NOAA and the NTIA, continues spending Obama stimulus money as fast as it can be printed. The project, now admittedly at least 5 months behind schedule, has turned into a lawyers dream as it continues to be a fiscal nightmare for the pocketbooks of the American People.

Neither NFBA Chairman Fulford, nor GSG's CEO Sheets, nor NGN's Counsel, Heather Encinosa mentioned that the Firm was already burning through the yet to be approved $10,000 retainer as the NFBA meeting began. By the end of business on September 27, the evening Mr. Fulford approved the retainer, Patton Boggs (the Firm) had already burned through $7056 of it. By the end of the week the Firm had billed $13,104.

It was just the beginning.

There were times when the Firm had attorneys Cynthia Shultz and Jenifer Richter working on NFBA business concurrently, raising the discounted rate to $1008 an hour.

NFBA member Dixie County has 80% of its students on free and reduced lunch. The per capita income is $13,559. 23.9% of those under 18 are below the poverty line.

The Firm's discounted rate doesn't include the cost of copies and arranging papers. This is billed at the rate of $128 per hour, which has brought the Firm's combined discounted hourly rate to $1136 per hour.

A day in the life of the Firm

October 4, 2011: A very good day for the Firm. Cost to the NFBA and the American People: $7,198

NFBA member Columbia County maintains a historical illiteracy rate approaching 30% and has 65% of its students on free and reduced lunch.

On October 4th, the Firm's Jennifer Richter spent two hours and fifteen minutes preparing for and participating in a call "with the NTIA regarding the North Florida Broadband grant suspension and next steps." Cost: $1134.

Patton Boggs' Wade Shafer spent the day printing and arranging NFBA papers for the Firm's Cynthia Schultz to review. Cost: $1024.

Attorney Shultz, the NFBA's principal Washington contact had a busy day on the 4th. Her bundled billing statement describes the following:

Participate in multiple calls with client, GSG, and NGN; work on NTIA strategy and NFBA draft responses; continuing review of client documentation and strategize on issues related to suspension of award and NFBA response. 10 hours; cost: $5040.

The Firm – not enough detail for the American People

The Firms billing practice is not up to par, but it is good enough for the rubber stamp NFBA and Lake City, City Manager Wendell Johnson, who signed off on the above amount and much more for the NFBA Board.

The American Bar Association Commission on Billable Hours Report found that attorney's billing statements should provide meaningful detail:

In recording and describing time, lawyers should put themselves in the position of the client receiving the bill, and ask “Does this give me the detail I need to evaluate the quality and quantity of the services provided?” Thus, sufficient detail must be provided … lawyers should not “bundle” descriptions, e.g., “research; conference call; and draft memo on X case.” (Emphasis added)

Attorney John L. Trunko, a known expert on attorney billing practices and the author of Good Timekeeping Practices wrote:

Billing by the hour requires detailed and accurate recording of the time spent and tasks performed on a client matter... Attorneys who bill by the hour are ethically required to provide accurate and detailed descriptions of the time that they have actually expended on behalf of their clients.


This is bundled billing by the Firm's Cynthia Schultz and represents 8.25 hours and $4158. It was approved by Interim General Manager Richelle Sucara, who is a CPA in Indiana.

Not seen in Patton Boggs' billing statement is the clock ticking on the billing rates of those on the other end of the line.

Government Services Group (GSG) raised its hourly billing rates to as high as $270 an hour to deal with the Corrective Action Plan (CAP) required by the federal government.

Nabors, Giblin and Nickerson (NGN) bills the NFBA at $225 an hour. Their billing rate for the CAP is unknown.

Discussions with Jacobs Engineering cost upwards of $200 an hour.

All in all, the Firm had a good October. Patton Boggs billed almost $100,000.

With the departure of Tallahassee's NGN, two more law firms are on board with the NFBA

With the departure of NGN the firm of Lewis, Longman & Walker is acting as new General Counsel. Attorney Brenna Durden represents the firm at the NFBA.

Grossman, Furlow & Bayo, LLC are working with LL&W and is represented by Attorney Patrick Wiggins. Mr. Wiggins is on board as the telecommunications expert.

Both firms bill the NFBA at the discounted rate of $270 an hour. Both firms show up at the NFBA meetings and their billing practices have not been established.

Attorneys Durden and Wiggins got off to a rocky start when on the day of their appointment they sat by as Bradford County's Representative; Christopher Thurow was illegally removed from the NFBA without a quorum present. During the same meeting, a contract was approved between Jacobs Engineering and the NFBA without a quorum present.

Attorneys Durden and Wiggins closed a meeting which was required to be in the Sunshine, siding with the federal government at a time and in a place where the feds had no jurisdiction.

Attorney Durden has also dragged her feet in responding to public records requests.

Epilogue

The outrageous billing practices of one of Washington's premier law firms; the NFBA's blind eye and irresponsible fiscal management of the American People's money; the feds' NTIA and NOAA's total inability to stop the irresponsible squandering of Obama Stimulus Money is a complete and total disgrace.

At the last meeting it was announced that the North Florida Broadband Authority will begin making money in February of 2012.

It is lucky for them that they never have to pay a dime back to the folks that they got the money from – The American People.

Part XIIa: A Lawyer's Dream. Money in no object. 

This work by the Columbia County Observer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.

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Links to the NFBA series:

North Florida Broadband Authority:
Baker County becomes the 7th north central Florida county to pull out of Obama stimulus funded NFBA

(Part XXXVII) (February 19, 2013)

North Florida Broadband Authority: Feds put failing stimulus funded NFBA on life support. 3yrs and $28+ mil later, 60 customers and no revenue model.
(Part XXXVI) (February 15, 2012)

North Florida Broadband Authority: Former Board Clerk sues NFBA for wrongful termination and violation of her constitutional rights
(Part XXXV) (January 30, 2013)

North Florida Broadband Authority: $30 mil later N. Central Florida Regional Planning Council - clueless
(Part XXXIV) (January 25, 2013)

North Florida Broadband Authority: After General Counsel's response, FL's Public Record Laws remain the latest casualty
(Part XXXIII (b)) (January 8, 2013)

• North Florida Broadband Authority: FL's Public Record Laws the latest casualty
(Part XXXIII) (January 6, 2013)

North Florida Broadband Authority: Foot dragging, lack of info cause Suwannee Cnty to call "strike 3" on the NFBA – They're out
(Part XXXII) (January 3, 2013)

North Florida Broadband Authority: Suwannee County tells the NFBA – One more strike and you're out
(PartXXXI) (December 20, 2012)

North Florida Broadband Authority: Wracked by gross mismanagement from the feds on down, the NFBA has become the poster child for non disclosure
(Part XXX) (December 18, 2012)

North Florida Broadband Authority: More bad news. Last Mile Wifi CEO, "I knew they were going to extort me."
(Part XXIX) December 10, 2012

North Florida Broadband Authority: NFBA failed to make the grade in Gilchrist County
(Part XXVIII) (November 29, 2012)

North Florida Broadband Authority: Columbia County Pulls Out of Obama Funded Stimulus Project
(Part XXVII) (November 2, 2012)

North Florida Broadband Authority: The NFBA road show traveled to an unprepared Columbia County with misinformation, half truths, and just plain lies
(Part XXVI) (Posted October 9, 2012)

North Florida Broadband Authority: Woebegotten Stimulus funded authority gets another black eye. No one bids to service the $30 mil 14 county network.
(Part XXV) (Posted October 1, 2012)

• North Florida Broadband Auth: Another County pulls out. Dixie says throwing away money a major issue.
(Part XXIV) (Posted September 13, 2012)

North Florida Broadband Authority: NFBA road shows moves to Lake City for a double dose of free money
(Part XXIII) (Posted September 5, 2012)

North Florida Broadband Authority: Secrecy and a lawyer's spread sheet. It's business as usual at the NFBA.
(Part XXII) (Posted August 22, 2012)

North Florida Broadband Authority:  Mainstreet Broadband, NFBA's touted business partner, goes bust
(Part XXI) (Posted August 2, 2012)

• North Florida Broadband Authority: Two cities say "no mas." Refuse free tower space to NFBA
(Part XX)  (Posted July 26, 2012)

North Florida Broadband Authority: Taylor County Says Goodbye, "I don't think our county should be involved."
(Part XIX) (Posted April 18, 2012)

• North Florida Broadband Authority: Perry Pulls Out, City Manager tells Council, "It's just out of whack"
(Part XVIII) (Posted April 11, 2012)

North Florida Broadband Authority: Bradford County Says "No Mas" – Pulls Out
(Part XVII) (Posted April 4, 2012)

North Florida Broadband Authority: Operating in the shadows with the help of the Feds, the NFBA saga continues
(Part XVI) (posted March 29, 2012)

Lake City, City Manager Wendell Johnson looks to make White Elephant deal with troubled North Florida Broadband Authority
(Part XV) (Posted Feb 28, 2012)

North Florida Broadband Authority: Propped up by the Feds, financed by the American People - Who can you trust?
(Part XIV) (Posted Feb 25, 2012)

North Florida Broadband Authority:
"Sunlight is the best disinfectant." Not for them

(Part XIII) (Posted Jan 13, 2011)

North Florida Broadband Authority:
A Lawyer's Dream. A Look At The Numbers
(Part XIIb) (Posted Dec 29, 2011)

North Florida Broadband Authority:
A Lawyer's Dream. Money Is No Object
(Part XIIa) (Posted Dec 28, 2011)

North Florida Broadband Authority:
Feds come to town – Working under the cover of darkness was their MO

(Part XI) (Posted November 23, 2011)

North Florida Broadband Authority:
Feds continue investigation - Interim GM rehires resigned firms employees

(part X) (Posted Nov 11, 2011)

North Florida Broadband Authority: "The greatest threat to this project is the Government"
(Part IX) (Posted November 2, 2011)

• Federal grant for broadband access in rural Louisiana rescinded: Could the North Florida Broadband Authority Be Far Behind?
(Posted October 28, 2011)

• North Florida Broadband Authority: Redefining "Good Business Sense?"
(Part VIII) (Posted October 25, 2011)

• North Florida Broadband Authority: Feds resume funding – Put small vendors first
(Part VII) (Posted October 20, 2011)

North Florida Broadband Authority: Small vendors in big trouble | NFEDP/FSU's Hendry may resign (Part VIb)  (Posted Oct 14, 2011)

North Florida Broadband Authority: Blood in the street (Part VIa)  (posted Oct 13, 2011)

North Florida Broadband Authority: "I don't want to die on principle and not have broadband." (Part V)  (posted Oct. 6, 2011)

NFBA future in limbo - Fed keeps funds locked down - Suspend project  (Part IV) (posted Sept 28, 2011)

The North Florida Broadband Authority. Its world was about to change (part III)  (posted Sept 16, 2011)

"I think we have a failure to communicate." The N Florida Rural Broadband saga continues (Part II)  (posted Sept 14, 2011)

Feds close spigot on $30 million broadband stimulus grant. 15 north central Florida counties waiting for money to flow again
(Part I)  (posted Sept 12, 2011)