The Bureau of Legislative Research has paid nearly $60,000 to a Little Rock law firm over the past five months for the assistance the firm has provided regarding an ongoing FBI probe into legislative records.
Invoices released by the bureau this week detailed some of the work handled by lawyers for the Mitchell, Williams, Selig, Gates and Woodyard law firm in relation to the federal investigation.
The total cost of that work, dating back to June 13, was $59,301, records show.
The records show that in July, the Bureau of Legislative Research received a subpoena for records from the FBI. Over the next two months, lawyers for the firm analyzed the records request and filed a motion to quash the subpoena because it was "over broad."
A federal judge made a decision on the request to quash the subpoena in September. The case remains under seal, and it couldn't be determined whether the bureau was ordered to produce any legislative records.
Marty Garrity, director of the Bureau of Legislative Research, citing the ongoing nature of the investigation, declined to say Wednesday what types of legislative records the FBI sought, which legislators were involved in the request or whether any documents were turned over to federal investigators.
The bureau received approval from the Legislative Council in June to hire an outside law firm to help the bureau staff handle records requests related to the federal investigation, though lawmakers at the time declined to elaborate on what federal officials were investigating.
A Legislative Council co-chairman, Sen. Bill Sample, R-Hot Springs, said Wednesday that the decision to hire outside counsel was made after federal investigators sought access to lawmakers' emails and didn't specify which individuals they were looking into.
"It was just a broad-brush type deal," Sample said.
While the subject of the federal investigation remains officially under wraps, Garrity said the Mitchell Williams firm also recently had begun assisting the Bureau of Legislative Research with legal work ahead of the December federal trial of former state Sen. Jon Woods, R-Springdale, who is accused of participating in a kickback scheme.
On Jan. 4, former state Rep. Micah Neal, also a Springdale Republican, pleaded guilty to a single fraud charge for taking two kickbacks in a related case.
At his trial scheduled for next month, Woods faces charges of wire fraud, mail fraud and money laundering.
Two other defendants in the federal case, consultant Randell Shelton Jr. and Ecclesia College President Oren Paris III, are accused of participating in a plan to pay Woods in exchange for directing grant money from the state's General Improvement Fund to the college, a small Christian school in Springdale.
All three defendants have pleaded innocent.
Garrity said the Bureau of Legislative Research has received a subpoena to have four staff members appear at Woods' trial next month.
In addition to the FBI, Garrity said, the Bureau of Legislative Research has been in contact with the U.S. attorney's office.
Invoices for legal work were provided to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette this week in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. The records were redacted to cover the names of several individuals listed on phone calls with lawyers from the firm.
Jane Duke, a partner at Mitchell Williams who has done work for the bureau related to the records probe, did not respond to a request for comment left at her office Wednesday.
The legal work billed to the Bureau of Legislative Research included time spent to "review and analyze case law related to legislative privilege."
The Arkansas Freedom of Information Act exempts the following from disclosure: "Unpublished memoranda, working papers and correspondence of the Governor, members of the General Assembly, Supreme Court Justices, Court of Appeals Judges, and the Attorney General."
Mitchell Williams, which has an offices in Rogers as well as Little Rock, charged the state more than $7,000 for travel expenses to and from Little Rock, the records show.
Garrity said two of the firm's attorneys working with the bureau are based out of Rogers and had to travel to the Capitol on several occasions.
Metro on 11/25/2017
Print Headline: State legal tab nears $60,000 in FBI probe