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Billing hundreds of dollars an hour, lawyers were hired by many state officials. One law firm's bill so far: $682,266.

By DIANE RADO

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 16, 2000


TALLAHASSEE -- The protracted battle over the presidency is over in Florida, but the legal bills just are coming in. Budget-conscious Floridians are in for a shock.

The secretary of state's office got a bill for $682,266 this week, the tab for about 3 1/2 weeks of legal services and expenses from the law firm of Steel Hector & Davis.

The firm's attorneys worked for $175 an hour -- considered a discount rate in a state where top lawyers at prestigious firms can command between $250 and $500 an hour.

Still, several attorneys earned more in three weeks than many state employees and public school teachers earn in a whole year.

Managing partner Joseph P. Klock Jr., who represented Secretary of State Katherine Harris before the U.S. Supreme Court, earned $64,592 between Nov. 12 and Dec. 5, according to records released Friday by Harris' office.

Klock billed the state for 369.1 hours he put in during the 24-day period. He also billed $9,223 for use of a private plane between Tallahassee and Washington, D.C., for one of the Supreme Court hearings.

The records released late Friday afternoon also included cellular phone bills showing a call from Harris' phone to the Texas governor's office at 11:50 p.m. on election night.

Harris could not be reached for comment to explain the call from her phone. She had a cellular phone that she allowed others to use on election night. The two-minute call from her phone was made during the tumultuous hours on election night when it was unclear whether Texas Gov. George W. Bush or Vice President Al Gore had won Florida.

Harris was a co-chairwoman of Bush's presidential campaign in Florida, and she became the target of intense criticism as Florida waded through the legal and legislative fights to determine the presidency. Critics said Harris' decisions on vote recounts and other issues favored Bush's position, and the Texas governor ultimately became president-elect.

Harris wasn't the only one who got a lawyer.

State Agriculture Commissioner Bob Crawford also hired a private attorney, and the state House and Senate hired their own attorneys as well.

The Florida Senate hired Roger J. Magnuson, who earned $425 an hour, and his associates earned between $235 and $370 an hour, according to a contract. Both Senate President John McKay and Magnuson said Magnuson had agreed to a substantially lower rate than he usually is paid.

Steel Hector didn't pass up the government rate of $175. "It's a case of a lifetime, and we all wanted to play a part in it," said Donna Blanton, one of the Steel Hector lawyers involved.

The firm submitted a bill for $627,280 in legal services between Nov. 12 and Dec. 5.

Forty attorneys, law clerks and paralegals were involved in work on a variety of cases related to the presidential controversy.

Klock earned the most during the period, followed by Blanton, whose bills totaled $44,625, and attorney Victoria L. Weber, whose bills totaled $44,345.

Some cases are pending, and the firm intends to submit additional bills, Blanton said.

The firm also sought reimbursement for $54,986.07 in expenses between Nov. 12 and Dec. 5, for everything from photocopying to air fare.

"As you can imagine, due to the magnitude of the representation, we would very much appreciate receiving payment of this invoice before year end if possible," Weber wrote to the Department of State earlier this week.

Legal bills won't be the only expenses related to the presidential drama that centered in Tallahassee.

There will be bills for employee overtime, increased security, and bringing the 160-member Legislature to town for a special session, usually estimated at $45,000 a day.

It was not clear Friday how the state plans to pay the bills. Florida does have a rainy-day fund for unexpected expenses.

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