What does it take to respond to Bridgegate? For Gov. Christie, it’s a team of 60 attorneys, some working seven days a week, and sometimes for 14 hours a day – at a cost to state taxpayers of $2.17 million in February, according to an invoice released earlier this week.
The invoice from the Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher law firm follows a January bill of $1.08 million. Another big bill seems likely for March: At the end of that month, the firm released a report that cleared Christie of wrongdoing in the George Washington Bridge lane closures, and also dismissed allegations that federal Hurricane Sandy money had been improperly distributed by the state.
The February invoice, released by the state Attorney General’s Office Monday, spans 81 pages, and gives partially redacted descriptions of just how much work lawyers were doing to write the report and respond to subpoenas for documents. Federal prosecutors are probing the closures, along with a legislative panel.
One lawyer billed an average of 86 hours a week of work for Christie’s office, according to the invoice. Five lawyers billed more than $100,000 for the month.
The work included everything from preparing for interviews – 75 people were interviewed for the firm’s report – to reviewing documents. Among the tasks described: “review documents for responsiveness,” “review document review progress,” and “review document review guidelines.”
Another subject reviewed by the lawyers was media coverage, according to the invoice.
Christie isn’t the only one with lawyers racking up a tab covered by taxpayers. The legislative committee retained Jenner & Block of Chicago, which has billed the state $485,400 through February. Hackensack attorney Leon Sokol and his firm have also billed $16,500 for work done for the committee through February.
And the number of individual state employees getting legal bills covered by the state is increasing. The state said Monday that it had agreed to cover the bills for 23 people to be represented by seven firms at a cost of $340 an hour. That’s on top of agreements the state previously reached with five firms to pay for employees – none of whom it has named – to be represented.
Some of those bills are trickling in: The state has agreed to pay $175,000 in legal fees incurred by Bill Stepien, who ran Christie’s reelection campaign and previously worked in the Statehouse. Stepien, whom Christie cut ties with in January after his name appeared in emails disclosed in the bridge controversy – went to court with lawyer Kevin Marino to fight a legislative subpoena, and won.
The $175,000 represents a portion of Stepien’s legal fees, calculated based on the number of days he worked in the administration during the period covered by the subpoena.
Another former Christie aide, Christina Renna, has billed the state $13,089, according to an invoice from lawyer Henry Klingeman.
Though the Bridgegate bills are growing, they could have been even higher: The state, which originally agreed to pay Gibson Dunn $650 an hour, reached a deal to cut the hourly rate to $350.