Law Practice

DC Firm Racks Up Big Bill in RI Case


A well-known Washington, D.C., law firm is sending the state of Rhode Island six-figure monthly bills for ongoing representation in a huge environmental clean-up case.

When the state asked Sutherland, Asbill & Brennan to represent R.I. in the case concerning a Southern Union Co. site in Tiverton, it anticipated monthly bills of approximately $75,000 to $100,000 in the case, for which the clean-up bill is expected to total at least $55 million. But legal bills are spiraling out of control, and the tab for January and Feburary alone topped $350,000, according to the Providence Journal.

“We were looking for someone who could represent us efficiently,” says W. Michael Sullivan, director of the state Department of Environmental Management. “They were a known entity with a broad environmental-law portfolio. We needed someone with their breadth and depth. I have five lawyers on my payroll, and if I had them all focus on this case, even though they’re all capable, we would still be understaffed.” The Sutherland firm reportedly had 20 lawyers and eight paralegals working on the case between August and February.

Southern Union, based in Houston, Texas, apparently is the current owner of a site formerly owned by a utility company that allegedly dumped toxic soil created by a process that was used decades ago by utility companies to turn goal into gas. The claimed contamination is the subject of an ongoing federal lawsuit filed in 2005 by nearby residents. Related matters are also being litigated in state court, according to the newspaper.

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