in Houston, Texas
Public lawyers hired to defend Austin officials in Open Meetings Act investigation
Thursday, Mar 31, 2011, 10:45AM CST
By Mark Lisheron
Austin City Hall

Only in the wild, wacky, wonderful world of government can politicians be accused of committing an illegal act against you and then bill you at $400 an hour for a lawyer to defend them.

City of Austin officials, including Mayor Lee Leffingwell and the City Council, facing the possibility of criminal prosecution for doing the public’s business secretly, have already put on the taxpayer payroll three lawyers to provide counsel on the Texas Open Meetings Act, according to a brow-furrowing story today in the Austin American-Statesman

The story says these legal specialists are charging taxpayers between $380 and $425 an hour, but the city was unable by deadline yesterday to provide the newspaper with their total bill.

Not content with this high-priced talent, Leffingwell and at least two council members - Bill Spelman and Laura Morrison - have gotten lawyered up privately in the event they are charged. The other council members reached by the paper say they, too, are considering packing barristers.

Whether or not they are allowed to stick you with their defense bill depends. Then-Texas Attorney General John Cornyn ruled in 2000 that a city council battling “an unjustified prosecution for open meetings violations” may present their legal bill to taxpayers, leaving it to be determined just what unjustified prosecution means.

The city can hold off paying the legal fees until the outcome of the prosecution is decided and then tear up the bill for any council member found guilty of open meetings violations, Cornyn’s ruling says.

For now, Leffingwell is paying for his own lawyer, although it is unclear from the lawyer, Brian Roark, why his services are needed. "The mayor has done nothing wrong," Roark told the Statesman. "There have been no secret meetings, no conspiracy to violate the open meetings act."
Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or

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Photo of Austin City Hall by flickr user That Other Paper, used via a Creative Commons license.
Thursday, 03/31/2011 - 12:25PM

Perhaps ONE of the reasons they need lawyers is because of implied assertions of guilt in news reports like this one?

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