Interview Date for the 7 City Attorney Applicants is Set by Council

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Dylan Lees for ELi

The City Council may decide to divide the City Attorney job into two: one for general counsel, one for prosecution in 54B District Court.

Interviews for the East Lansing City Attorney position(s) will take place on Jan. 5, 2022, when seven applicants will be queried by City Council in the latest step toward replacing the Foster Swift firm as City Attorney.

After deciding to move on from Foster Swift in August, putting out an Request for Proposals (RFP) and then an addendum to that RFP specifying that the City intended to hire counsel on two contracts — one for general-counsel municipal work and another for prosecutions — Council was able to set the interview date at its discussion-only meeting on Tuesday. 

The interview period will run from 5-9 p.m. on Jan. 5, and each applicant will have around 30-35 minutes to answer questions from Council.

As to the questions for applicants, City Manager George Lahanas said he’d pull lists of questions from previous City Attorney interviews and bring them before Council at its next meeting — on Dec. 21 — for Council members to adjust and finalize. 

Mayor Ron Bacon indicated that Jan. 6 would serve as an alternate date, if needed. Lahanas also noted that getting the interviews done on that date would allow Council to conclude deliberations at their regularly-scheduled meeting on Jan. 11. The City Charter gives the Council the job of hiring and firing for only two positions: the City Manager and the City Attorney.

As for the interview format, it was suggested by Council member Dana Watson that the applicants be asked to wait outside the interviews — a public meeting — while others were being asked questions. 

Council member George Brookover, a finalist for the City Attorney position last time around, eschewed this idea. 

“Look, these are attorneys,” Brookover said. “If they can’t sit in the audience and listen to some other attorney talk about what they can do or not do — I think that’s sort of, I think it’s unnecessary. We just block them for 30 minutes or 40 minutes, we put them in order, here’s your order, you can come and listen to the other people or not listen to the other people.”

He continued, speaking to the Mayor: “You know, I’m reminded of our [Council candidate] interviews, Ron, at ASMSU where they wouldn’t let me come in and listen to you because you were running for a two-year spot and I might hear the questions, so the two of us or the four of us had to sit outside. I just thought it was silly. My attitude is, let’s just set them up, have everybody be in the same boat. Interview them all, as opposed to trying to select out three or four like you did the last time.”

Brookover also addressed how the Council undercut itself in negotiations with Foster Swift more than a year ago when they first approved the contract with the firm.

“I thought it was kind of weird from a negotiation standpoint that the last time, you had those interviews and then on camera, you pretty much decided who you wanted. And then you went and negotiated with them. And, to me, that maybe wasn’t the smartest way to do things, because you had already telegraphed to them that that’s who you wanted. So, then, with all due respect to them, you sat down with [Foster Swift] and they knew that they had you, at some level. So, I think we ought to be a little careful about that, in terms of making a decision that day.”

He suggested Council regroup then reconvene after some personal consideration. Bacon and Mayor Pro Tem Jessy Gregg reminded that Council still needed to follow the Michigan Open Meetings Act (OMA), despite it potentially disadvantaging the City in negotiations. 

Proposed rates from the seven applicants for City Attorney.

The seven applicants for the City Attorney position are:

  • Thrun Law Firm
  • Clark Hill PLC
  • Giamarco, Mullins & Horton PLC
  • Miller Johnson
  • The Law Offices of Casey D. Conklin, PLC
  • Grewal Law
  • Robert Easterly

The last individual on that list — Easterly — is currently one of the City Attorneys from the Foster Swift firm. He has been handling prosecution work for the City. His proposed RFP is only to do prosecution work for the City, and apparently not attached to Foster Swift. 

All the other applicants, it appears, are vying to do both jobs for the City. 

The proposed hourly rates and other costs (which are not inclusive of all costs potentially imposed on the City), still presumably subject to negotiation between the City and respective firms, are as follows: 

  • Thrun: $135 for law clerks, $152 for associates, and $176 for shareholders. Payment for bond counsel work would be separate and specific to whichever deal (though the City currently has other bond counsel).
  • Clark Hill: For municipal work it would be $250-350 for members, $250-275 for senior attorneys, $250 for associates, and $150 for paralegals. The prosecution rates are $200 for all attorneys and $150 for paralegals. 
  • Giamarco, Mullins & Horton: $135 for attorneys, $65 for paralegals, plus 20 cents per page for photocopies.
  • Miller Johnson: For municipal work, $270 for members, $225 for associates, $145 for paralegals. For prosecution, the firm listed $145 for paralegals, plus three other attorneys — Rich Perez ($195), Alise Hildreth ($195) and Richard Cherry ($270). It does note that Cherry “will only prosecute on an as-needed basis at his discounted rate to keep costs low.”
  • Casey D. Conklin: $250 for attorneys, $85 for paralegals, but they will go to something closer to $175 for attorneys if they have at least a $10,000 per month minimum contract.
  • Grewal: $200 for managing partners, $185 for senior attorneys, $170 for associates, $75 for paralegals. 
  • Easterly: $175 for attorneys and $125 for paralegals. He also proposed an annual flat rate of $360,000 paid out monthly. 

It’s also reasonable to expect City Council will want to install cost-control measures, like the $500,000 annual cost cap they pushed for with Foster Swift.

You can see all the RFP responses from the applicants here.

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