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What's the cost of reform? In Ferguson, it may be $1,335/hour

The city of Ferguson, Mo. has hired high-profile attorney Dan K. Webb to assist the city in bringing about reform within the police department.

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    The city of Ferguson, Mo., is paying Dan K. Webb, left, $1,335 an hour to help the St. Louis suburb negotiate and possibly litigate reforms pressed by the Justice Department since Michael Brown's shooting death by a police officer there last summer.
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After the US Justice Department released a scathing report on conduct by members of the Ferguson, Mo., police department, changes must be made if the city wishes to avoid a lawsuit.

Reform can be expensive. In the case of Ferguson, it may be about $1,335 an hour.

In order to negotiate and possibly enact the changes required by the Justice Department, the Ferguson City Council unanimously decided to hire attorney Dan K. Webb to head the charge. His hourly rate is nearly double Missouri’s highest attorney billing rate last year, reported the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and will not include any expenses and fees of Mr. Webb’s other employees who may contribute to the case.

While the reforms required by the Justice Department are extensive, some critics argue that hiring such a high profile lawyer is fiscally irresponsible for the city of Ferguson. So is it irresponsible, or is it simply necessary to undergo the transformative reform necessary to meet the government’s requirements?

The reforms come in response to a report released by the Justice Department exploring police conduct within the Ferguson police department following the shooting death of Michael Brown last year. The investigation revealed a history of targeting members of the African-American community, which lead the Justice Department’s demands that the city address issues of racial bias and profiling within the system.

The city decided to hire Webb behind closed doors, and only recently released details of his pay. Webb has a history of working on high profile cases, including the New York Stock Exchange, Philip Morris, and Microsoft. He was also involved in multiple government corruption cases, including that of John Poindexter during the Iran-Contra scandal.

Webb will work closely with the Justice Department to negotiate and enact the necessary changes to promote department-wide reform, as per the investigation. Some critics argue that hiring Webb was unnecessary to achieve reform. Sam Walker, a professor emeritus at the University of Nebraska-Omaha and an expert on negotiations within the Justice Department, said Ferguson made an unwise decision.

“He’s an outstanding trial attorney, but this is not a trial,” Mr. Walker told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “It looks like they don’t know what they are doing, and they’re gearing up for a fight.”

But Webb said that he thinks the city made a good decision in hiring him to work on the case.

“Yes, I try a lot of cases, but that’s not why I was hired,” he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “The city wanted somebody who could try the case if necessary if they had to. But they don’t want to do that, and it’s clear to me that the Department of Justice doesn’t want to do that … I have resolved a lot of cases in my time.”

The city has already undergone significant changes since the report’s release. Multiple employees mentioned in the report stepped down, as did the city manager, municipal judge, and police chief. In early April, the city elected two African-American candidates to the city council, bringing African-American representation on the council to 50 percent for the first time in history.

Still, the city faces challenges in meeting the standards set by the Justice Department. Brian Fletcher, a newly-elected council member, said that already without legal fees and implementing reforms, the city faces a $2 to $3 million budget deficit for the fiscal year ending in June, and will likely face a similar deficit the following year.

This article contains reporting from The Associated Press.

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