Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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North Florida Broadband Authority:
A Lawyer's Dream. Money Is No Object

Lake City, FL – The North Florida Broadband Authority, the consortium of 15 North Central Florida Rural Counties and 8 Cities in partnership with U.S. the Department of Commerce, NOAA and the NTIA, continues spending Obama stimulus money as fast as it can be printed. The project, now admittedly at least 5 months behind schedule, has turned into a lawyers dream, as it continues to be a fiscal nightmare for the pocketbooks of the American People.

stories are here

The NFBA now has three law firms funded by the American People. From recently acquired documents the Observer has discovered the following.

In Washington the NFBA has Patton Boggs, the silver plated high priced firm that claims to be a leader in public policy and lobbying and does everything from A to almost Z. The firm has offices from Washington, DC to Abu Dhabi in the Middle East. Patton Boggs has discounted its billing rate to $504 dollars an hour for the NFBA, which they claim represents a 20% discount from the normal $630 per hour rate for attorneys Cynthia Shultz and Jennifer Richter.

On September 23, 2011, Patton Boggs (the Firm) wrote a letter of engagement to the NFBA Chairman, Stephen Fulford. The Firm demanded a $10,000 retainer to commence work.

In that letter Jennifer Richter, writing for the Firm, stated the following:  Our representation will not commence until we receive a check in the amount of $10,000 of an advance payment of legal fees and expenses.

In a letter dated September 27, 2011, the Firm was referred to the NFBA Chairman, Jefferson County's Stephen Fulford, by Government Service Group's (GSG) Robert Sheets, whose own firm was under fire from the federal government. GSG was the General Manager of the NFBA project. In that letter Mr. Sheets wrote: An engagement letter from Patton Boggs LLP is attached for your consideration and for Board Ratification.

Also on September 27, NFBA Chairman Fulford sent a letter back to the NFBA General Manager, GSG's Robert Sheets, and the NFBA General Council, Nabors, Giblin and Nickerson, in which he wrote:

Based on the extremely limited timeframe for response and the unique experience of a particular individual at Patton Boggs LLP, I hereby execute the attached engagement agreement and authorize payment of the retainer.

Chairman Fulford did not execute the agreement until the next day.

It has never been explained why Chairman Fulford did not mention the Firm's Cynthia Shultz by name.

GSG, NGN and the NFBA were all conveniently located down the hall from each other in the same building in Tallahassee.

At 6:13 pm on Sept 27th, Chairman Fulford e mailed GSG that he accepted the terms of the letter of engagement and authorized the $10,000 payment to the Firm.

The letter of engagement was signed by Chairman Fulford on September 28, 2011.

The rubber stamp NFBA approved the Chairman's actions the next day on September 29th, with only Bradford County's Christopher Thurow voting against.

The NFBA had no idea how fast the silver plated Firm's fees could mount.

Gilchrist County's Tommy Langford voiced some concern about that, but lost all reservations when he found out the American People would be on the hook for the tab.

The Firm was burning through the retainer two days before anything was approved and before the NFBA knew they were hired.

Neither NFBA Chairman Fulford, nor the NFBA General Manager GSG's CEO Sheets, nor the NFBA Counsel, NGN's Heather Encinosa mentioned that the Firm was already burning through the retainer as the NFBA meeting began. Patton Boggs began work two days before the retainer was signed and by the end of business on September 27th, the evening Mr. Fulford approved the retainer, the Firm had already burned through $7056 of it. By the end of the week, September 30th, the Firm had billed $13,104.

It was just the beginning.

Tomorrow, Part XIIb: A look at the numbers. 

This work by the Columbia County Observer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.

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