Inspector general criticizes city lawyers’ record keeping, data management

The city’s in-house attorneys do not track the time they spend on each case they are handling and sometimes dabble in outside work, which obscures the employees’ contributions and can lead to subpar job performance, according to an Office of Inspector General report.

In addition, the Law Department’s internal systems do not provide data on attorney prosecution rates, legal claims the city owes and other basic information — a “missed opportunity” for city officials and the public, who might otherwise use that data to gauge lawyers’ effectiveness, the report said.

Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux also criticized attorneys for apparently failing to routinely share case information with the New Orleans Police Department, the NOPD’s Public Integrity Bureau and the city’s risk manager, who works to protect the city from financial loss.

Quatrevaux’s latest report, released last week, is the fourth in a series of reviews into spending on the city’s justice system.

It’s also the second time in recent months that he has chided city attorneys for working elsewhere. A June review of DWI arrests and prosecutions found that those who moonlighted as private attorneys often underperformed at their public jobs.

Banning such outside employment, along with Quatrevaux’s other recommendations to the city, would “provide information to policymakers to facilitate the effective management of resources, lower the potential for conflicts of interest for city attorneys with private clients, and reduce the risk of litigation and police misconduct,” the report said.

Other suggestions include requiring lawyers to track their time by case, revising attorney performance measures, formalizing rules for sharing information with the NOPD and other agencies, and placing basic data in one easily accessible database.

The suggested ban on private practice might be hard to implement. Municipal and Traffic Court prosecutors are allowed to practice elsewhere, the report acknowledged, because they work for the city part time and are paid less than other department attorneys. Paying them more would require more funding for the Law Department.

Nonetheless, in its response to the OIG report, the city said the department is scanning lawyers’ workloads for potential conflicts of interest, and the city recently instituted a monthlong, experimental change in the prosecutors’ schedules: one full week on, one full week off. The goal was to seek a way to reduce overlap between outside employment and city work hours.

City officials disagreed with the OIG’s timekeeping critique. While tracking hours by case is common in the private sector as a means for attorneys to bill their clients, the Law Department’s only client is the city, officials said, so there is no need to track precisely how long its lawyers spend on each case.

Also of concern, the city said, would be the time needed to create such records and their potential public release. Creating such a log would be burdensome for attorneys, and disseminating those time logs would break attorney-client privilege and potentially reveal case strategy, the city said.

Officials did, however, agree with the suggestion for improved data management, and they are researching new data management systems, they said.

In all cases, “the Law Department has reviewed the OIG’s recommendations and is taking them under advisement,” said Hayne Rainey, Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s press secretary.

The OIG critique of lack of communication with other agencies comes even as the NOPD’s federal consent decree requires city lawyers to tell the department when officers are named in civil suits. Those notices go out monthly, but the Public Integrity Bureau has not received notice in some cases.

What’s more, even if city attorneys did send initial notice of lawsuits, they rarely sent the police watchdog bureau updates as those cases progressed, the bureau’s leader told the OIG.

Rainey, in response to that criticism, said the lawyers work “in close concert” with other agencies before and after lawsuits.

Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA.

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