Local law firm caught up in Havasu public defender contract dispute
LAKE HAVASU CITY – An agenda item that would have granted a contract for public defender services to a Kingman-based law firm was tabled by the Lake Havasu City Council due to lingering questions about how the selection was made.
The item that went before the City Council Tuesday called for a five-year professional services agreement to be granted to Whitney & Whitney PLLC for the purpose of providing legal representation for indigent defendants and Veterans Treatment Court participants. Last July, Whitney & Whitney was granted a one-year contract not to exceed $170,000 for the public defender services. The contract was extended to Aug. 31 by the City Council almost two months ago to allow city staff time to conduct a selection process for the services.
According to a Havasu attorney, however, the selection process was unfair.
“I believe that the process is basically unfair and whoever sets this process up has created an illusion of fairness,” stated Michael Frame at the Tuesday meeting.
Frame claimed that a total of six law firms submitted proposals to the city, detailing methodology and pricing. He claims his pricing of $120,000 per year was lower than what was proposed by Whitney & Whitney.
“It’s interesting that this government is choosing the highest bidder in this process when I submitted my proposal, I detailed my experience, I’ve been an attorney for 20 years, been doing lots of criminal defense, in fact, I was the interim public defender for this town before the contract was awarded to Mr. Whitney,” said Frame.
Following Frame’s comments, the City Council unanimously voted to table the item until questions about the selection process could be answered by City Magistrate Mitchell Kalauli, who was not in attendance for Tuesday’s meeting. Some questions included how Whitney &Whitney was selected, why bids were involved if it did not appear to influence the outcome and whether or not there were alternative options.
According to City Manager Jess Knudson, while the city is not required to solicit proposals for specialized services – which legal services falls under – a request for proposals was issued by the city. He wrote in an email that the city received a total of six proposals, some of which included a flat rate and some an hourly rate, “which makes it difficult to compare the proposals solely on cost,” he stated.
“Cost is one criteria used to make a decision like this, but scope, available resources, approach, experience and other qualifications are also part of the evaluation and selection process,” wrote Knudson.
Court Supervisor Jennifer Harrold told the City Council Tuesday that they have had a contract with Whitney & Whitney for the past five years. She added that the law firm was selected due to their ability to handle a large volume of cases.
“I think it’s important that the court system be able to work with the people that they know can get the job done – they don’t have to worry about where they are, are they there, if it’s a one-man show, is he sick, is he on vacation, I mean I think there are a lot of assets to be said for working with one organization,” said Councilwoman Donna McCoy. “I just hate putting you on the spot of answering questions when the person that ultimately makes the decision is unable to be here.”
The agenda item will go before the City Council on Sept. 11 because the Aug. 28 meeting was canceled due to the primary election.
Whitney & Whitney’s current contract will be extended by approximately two weeks to ensure there is no interruption in services, according to Knudson.