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Settlement of Billing Dispute with Maricopa County to Cost Ogletree Deakins Nearly $2M

Posted Dec 13, 2012 11:09 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Maricopa County has settled its lawsuit claiming Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak and Stewart made at least 299 errors when it billed the county for legal work.

Ogletree Deakins will waive $1.1 million in unpaid bills and will pay $855,000 to settle the case, the Arizona Republic reports. It has already refunded more than $78,000 for a “coding mistake” in which it charged associate rates for two law grads before they had passed the bar.

There is no admission of liability in the settlement agreement (PDF). All outstanding litigation will be dropped. Ogletree has previously settled a defamation suit against the county over claims in a termination letter that the firm may have expanded its assignments and possibly inflated its legal bills.

Maricopa County had claimed most of the alleged billing errors occurred when Ogletree misclassified 11 lawyers at higher experience levels than authorized by contract. The agreement had specified rates for associates, senior associates, partners and senior partners, and set the minimum years of experience necessary for each category.

John Doran, a lawyer representing Ogletree in the litigation, had previously said the dispute was a matter of contract interpretation, and “there are not 299 billing errors or anything close to that number.”

The settlement included a joint press release—Exhibit A—that would be issued after the county approved the agreement. The press release does not specifically mention the $855,000 payment, though it says the county will be reimbursed for fees and costs.

"Both sides applauded this resolution of their disputes, which date back to 2010, when the county and the firm parted company," the press release says. "The parties were at odds on a variety of matters arising out of the law firm’s prior legal representation of certain county entities and officials, including then-County Attorney Andrew Thomas and Sheriff Joe Arpaio."

In the mutually approved press release, Doran said: “With various forms of litigation between the parties promising to continue forward for many years, this resolution allows us to put an end to the expense and distraction of the various disputes, to relieve the county taxpayers of the ongoing burdens these disputes would create, and for Ogletree to focus on providing its clients throughout the country with the very best legal representation available.”

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