City of Austin Commits $159,000 for Advice in County Attorney’s Open Meetings Act Inquiry
Three Attorneys Hired for Up to $53,000 Each
The Austin Bulldog has obtained copies of Engagement Letters signed by Acting City Attorney Karen Kennard to hire three outside attorneys to provide legal advice and counsel relating to Texas Open Meetings Act issues. This in response to Travis County Attorney David Escamilla’s inquiry into whether the Austin City Council may have violated the Texas Open Meetings Act by holding private meetings concerning public business. (See The Austin Bulldog’s report of January 25.)
Some or all of these attorneys attended the closed-door executive session of the Austin City Council on January 28 that lasted two and a half hours. The posted purpose of that meeting was for private consultation with legal counsel to discuss legal issues relating to the Open Meetings Act.
The Engagement Letters, obtained under the Texas Public Information Act and dated January 28, state that each attorney will be paid for legal services in a total amount not to exceed $53,000. That budget cap may not be exceeded without the city’s approval.
Attorney James E. “Jim” Cousar of Thompson & Knight LLP will be paid $425 per hour.According to Cousar’s profile on the Thompson & Knight website, Cousar has represented the City of Austin in public private development agreements downtown and at the airport. He also provides advice to officeholders, candidates, and corporate political committees on compliance with campaign finance laws.Cousar graduated from the University of Texas law school in 1978, according to his profile on the State Bar of Texas website.
Attorney C. Robert “Bob” Heath of Bickerstaff Heath Delgado Acosta LLP will be paid $380 per hour.Heath is a nationally known authority on open meetings and open records matters, according to the profile on his website. He spent six years as chairman of the Opinion Committee in the Office of the Texas Attorney General, where he helped develop the law in this important area. “In addition to counseling on compliance, our lawyers have defended governments and officials in lawsuits alleging violations of the open meetings and open records laws,” his profile states.Heath, a name partner in his firm, graduated from the University of Texas law school in 1972, according to his profile on the State Bar of Texas website.
Attorney Randy T. Leavitt of the Law Office of Randy T. Leavitt will be paid $380 per hour. In addition, the rate schedule for his engagement letter authorizes paying Associate Randy Langford $150 per hour and Legal Assistant Erin MacDonald $75 per hour.Leavitt was a partner in Minton Burton Foster & Collins for 20 years, a dozen of which he was managing partner, according to Leavitt’s profile on his website. After leaving that firm he was hired as a prosecutor and first assistant Travis County attorney 2004-2009. He currently focuses his practice on criminal and civil litigation.Leavitt got his law degree from Texas Tech University in 1980, according to his profile on the State Bar of Texas website.
Update: 9:36am February 8, 2011: Deleted “district” before “attorney” to denote that Leavitt was first assistant Travis County attorney, not first assistant district attorney.
This report was made possible by contributions to The Austin Bulldog, which operates as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit to provide investigative reporting in the public interest. The Austin Bulldog has many investigative projects waiting to be funded. You can help bring these investigations to life by making a tax-deductible contribution.