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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

SF Law Firm Accused of Bilking, Feeing Small Town to Death

Posted By on Wed, Jun 16, 2010 at 1:43 PM

click to enlarge Colfax is up to its neck in sue-age
  • Colfax is up to its neck in sue-age
The tiny Sierra foothill town of Colfax, home to 13,000 souls halfway between Sacramento and Reno, wouldn't seem like the obvious target for a white-shoe San Francisco law firm seeking a bonanza in inflated fees.

 But in a Colfax Record editorial Wednesday, City Manager Bruce Kranz calls San Francisco's Lawyers For Clean Water, which makes a specialty of representing clients who sue California communities under the Clan Water Act "vultures feasting upon Colfax like it was roadkill."

"These guys, in my opinion, are just out for the money," Kranz said in an interview with The Snitch. "Our city is unable to pay these kinds of fees."

This is a billing dispute over legal bills, owed under the Clean Water Act, a federal law that requires offenders to pay attorneys fees if they're found to have violated environmental regulations. Colfax admitted that it's century-old sewage system was not up to snuff, and settled out of court. Now, the city has opened a new, modern water treatment plant, is updating its pipes, and has conducted a study to determine how much copper is in water drawn by residents of the Placer County town. (Full disclosure: your writer attended Colfax Elementary School.)

But Colfax alleges that the firm has taken the suit an extra mile by seeking to gouge Colfax, billing for fancy $120 lunches, double-billing $9,000, and charging $550 per hour for legal work, a rate that's astronomical by Colfax standards.

"It's absolutely ludicrous," said Kranz, who claimed the firm charged for a 40 percent tip and lunching at Il Fornaio restaurant in Sacramento.

Lawyers for Clean Water partner Daniel Cooper told us Colfax was merely trying to dodge responsibility. In a legal filing, Cooper claimed that Colfax's decision to fund a children's swimming pool, rather than promptly pay Cooper's legal fees, proved the town didn't have its priorities straight, the Record reported June 2. (Further disclusure: your writer fondly recalls childhood swimming lessons at the Colfax public pool.).

"We're entitled to the rates we get in San Francisco," he said."They say that we're vultures, but we certainly have picked a deeper pocket."

When presented with $9,000 worth of over-billing, Cooper told KOVR television in Sacramento, "They spent more than $9,000 on their attorneys arguing about the


As for the the $120 restaurant bill: "We spent120 bucks for five people. That's more than a cafeteria, but not a celebratory dinner," Cooper said.

If that celebratory dinner ever does come, at, say, San Francisco's Town Hall, expect a total more like $100 per plate. And don't forget the tip.

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Matt Smith


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