Measure in Okla. on State Agency Legal Counsel Draws Concerns

Article excerpt

A House bill designed to place restrictions on how state agencies hire legal counsel is drawing fire from a lawyers' organization that claims those restrictions could force some attorneys to reveal their courtroom strategies.

House Bill 1223, by state Rep. Mark McCullough, R-Sapulpa, would create the Legal Services Reform Act. Under the measure, state agencies would have to gain approval from the attorney general's office for all outside attorney contracts. Information regarding those contracts would have to be posted online.

McCullough said the measure would save the state money.

"In recent years, Oklahoma government has come under the spotlight for the millions of taxpayer dollars expended on private law firms," McCullough said earlier this year. "This legislation will give the public greater confidence that future expenditures of that type are legitimate and that contracts were not awarded as a sweetheart deal for politically connected law firms. The reforms contained in this legislation provide improved safeguards against such potential waste of public money."

However, officials with the Oklahoma Lawyers Association said the bill could also force some attorneys to divulge litigation strategy. In a letter sent to House Majority Floor Leader Dan Sullivan, R- Tulsa, on April 28, OLA Executive Director Thad Balkman said the group supports calls for increased transparency in government, but takes issue with some portions of HB 1223.

"We agree with the goals of HB 1223," Balkman wrote. "And we desire to work with the author and other stakeholders on legislation that will increase the transparency and accountability of legal services performed for the state."

But the OLA, Balkman said, was concerned that requiring the state to publish information about attorneys' rates and number of hours worked on cases would place the state at a significant legal disadvantage. …