Pima College votes to divide up outside legal work

Big Tucson firm that got $300K to $400K a year is phased out
2013-05-12T00:00:00Z 2014-08-05T11:03:35Z Pima College votes to divide up outside legal workCarol Ann Alaimo Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
May 12, 2013 12:00 am  • 

A law firm that's collected more than $2 million from taxpayers and overcharged them for two years straight won't be getting much business anymore from Pima Community College.

DeConcini McDonald Yetwin & Lacy has billed PCC more than $2.2 million since 2003, most recently at a rate of $300,000 to $400,000 a year for work that wasn't put out for competitive bids as required by college policy.

The school now plans to spend a much smaller amount for outside legal advice - about $200,000 next year - and split it among DeConcini McDonald and two other law firms: Gust Rosenfeld of Tucson and Udall Schumway of Mesa.

The bulk of PCC's legal work will be done by its new in-house attorney, Jeff Silvyn, who makes about $105,000 a year.

The change in outside law firms, each of which recently bid on the work, was approved Wednesday by a 4-1 vote of the Governing Board.

Silvyn recommended that DeConcini McDonald be kept on for now. He said the firm is involved in a few ongoing legal cases, and that it would be cheaper to let it finish them than starting over with another law firm.

Board member Sylvia Lee was the lone vote opposed to the new setup.

She urged the board to sever all ties to DeConcini McDonald, which conducted nearly all PCC's legal affairs during the years disgraced former Chancellor Roy Flores ran the school.

"We need a fresh start," Lee said in an interview, noting that both PCC's accreditor and Arizona's auditor general raised questions about the relationship between the college and the law firm.

The accreditor said DeConcini McDonald attorney John Richardson, PCC's longtime chief legal advisor, created a situation that "could be perceived as a conflict of interest" when he arranged for his wife, an attorney at the same firm, to investigate sexual-harassment claims against Flores, who resigned last year.

Richardson has defended his handling of the matter.

The state auditor determined DeConcini McDonald hadn't had a proper contract relationship with PCC since 2008, when its initial contract expired.

PCC officials have defended using the law firm without a contract, saying the college had a cooperative agreement with another school that allowed it to piggyback onto that institution's contract.

The state audit said PCC's policies "do not allow for legal services to be procured through cooperative agreements" and said the college may have paid too much for legal services because it didn't get bids for the work.

An Arizona Daily Star investigation last fall also found that DeConcini McDonald overcharged PCC by $5 an hour between 2010 and 2012, adding more than $21,000 to the school's legal tab.

The error went undetected until the Star questioned it and the firm later refunded the money.

Contact reporter Carol Ann Alaimo at calaimo@azstarnet.com or at 573-4138.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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