Local taxpayers spent more than $81,000 for three months of consulting work by a New York law firm that is helping the city and county's effort to keep the Chargers in San Diego.
Documents obtained Thursday by NBC 7 Investigates reveal the cost of legal work performed in April, May and June by the Nixon Peabody law firm.
Copies of the firm’s bills, obtained thought the California Public Records Act, show Nixon Peabody was paid $17,100 in fees for “legal advice in connection with potential football stadium” in April, plus $514 in expenses. The firm’s attorneys, who have experience in sports, construction and public project law, charge $500 an hour for their expertise.
Nixon Peabody charged taxpayers an almost identical amount ($17,620) in fees and expenses for services rendered in May.
The law firm’s June bill was considerably higher, with consulting fees more than doubling to $35,957. Attorney Christopher Melvin, who represented the city in negotiations with the Chargers (before the team walked away from the table) and who continues to help the city and county present their case to the NFL, billed taxpayers for 60.75 hours of work, at $500 an hour. Three other Nixon Peabody attorneys billed a total of 11.2 hours, also at $500 hour.
Nixon Peabody’s June bill also includes reimbursement for almost $10,000 in expenses for several months, including air travel, taxis, hotels and parking. The attorneys have traveled to San Diego from their offices in New York and Los Angeles several times for face-to-face meetings on the stadium effort.
The law firm is being paid from a $500,000 fund established jointly by the San Diego City Council and the County board of supervisors. Councilmembers and supervisors each approved the expenditure of $250,000 in taxpayer money to pay consultants and advisers for their expertise on efforts to build a new Chargers stadium in Mission Valley.
Supervisors this week approved an additional $500,000 to cover future payments for consultants, if needed, with the understanding that that money can be spent only if the Chargers resume negotiations. For a full breakdown of the local government's investment, see the infographic below.
County taxpayers are also paying a San Francisco-based attorney, Michael Zischke, for his expertise in environmental law. A county spokesman said the county has not yet received any bills yet from Zischke for his work on the stadium project, but said the county will release a copy of Zischke’s invoices when it receives them.
Nixon Peabody and Zischke are working for less than their normal hourly rates for this job. Attorneys at major U.S. law firms routinely charge private clients $800 an hour or more, but generally reduce those fees considerably for government contract work.
The consulting firm Citi Group is also advising on the stadium project, but the company is not paid for consulting and is only reimbursed for expenses. (Citi Group would be paid by a commission on any financial package it helps the city and county assemble, if a new stadium is eventually built.)
Nixon Peabody is expected to bill the city and county for substantial amounts for work done in July and August.
The firm’s attorneys prepared for, and traveled to, a meeting in San Diego on July 28 with representatives of the NFL.
Nixon Peabody is also expected to play an important role in the city and county’s Aug. 10 presentation to NFL owners in Chicago.
Michael Zischke, the environmental law expert, is also expected to bill taxpayers a significant amount for his work on the stadium Environmental Impact Report, which is a crucial and very contested aspect of the effort to build a new Mission Valley stadium. Zischke is being paid $565 per hour, plus expenses, for his consulting services.