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© 2007 The Daily Journal Corporation. All rights reserved.
LAW PRACTICE • July 18, 2007

Cost Control Suffers Under County Counsel

by Robert Iafolla, Daily Journal Staff Writer

Lawyers in the Los Angeles County Counsel's Office often ignored procedures designed to limit its multimillion-dollar legal bills, according to a report of an internal county audit.

County lawyers frequently submitted case evaluation plans late, underestimated litigation costs, increased case budgets without supervisor review or approval, and failed to meet for round-table discussions or update cases on the County's risk-management computer system, according to the report.

The County Board of Supervisors commissioned the report in June 2006, after the total judgments and settlements paid spiked to $38.3 million, a 43 percent increase over the previous two-year average.

The County's auditor-controller conducted the audit and submitted the report to the Board in January. The Daily Journal obtained a redacted version of the report through public records requests.

In addition, the auditor-controller interviewed County Counsel staff, outside attorneys, third-party administrators and County risk management staff. An outside attorney who had not worked with the County, Kenneth Moscaret of Moscaret Consulting, evaluated litigation strategy and billing.

Not all of the report's findings reflected shortcomings. For example, the outside attorney found that County Counsel followed appropriate litigation strategy in five of the six cases reviewed and that the office saves money by keeping outside attorney billing rates below market value.

* The above excerpt from article edited and condensed due to space limitations