Archive for Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Westar told to pay Wittig $1.67M

July 16, 2008

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— A Shawnee County judge on Tuesday agreed that Westar Energy Inc. must reimburse former Chief Executive Officer David Wittig for legal fees in his ongoing criminal case, but awarded much less than what Wittig was seeking.

District Court Judge David Bruns ordered the Topeka-based utility to pay Wittig $1.67 million for legal bills his attorneys generated between February 2005 and June 2006.

Wittig had sought $2.55 million, and a special master appointed by the court recommended in November that he receive $2.46 million.

In his 52-page order, Bruns awarded the full reimbursement of $470,468 sought by the Prairie Village-based firm of Berkowitz, Oliver, Williams, Shaw & Eisenbrandt.

But he cut the amount of fees and expenses sought by the Washington, D.C.-based firm of Piper Rudnick by $876,031 to $1.2 million.

He said he reduced the amount because the firm's attorneys charged much more per hour than Wittig's local attorneys but their added expertise wasn't necessary in his defense.

"The court finds that there is no legitimate reason why Westar should be required to pay substantially higher hourly rates on behalf of Mr. Wittig than those which are charged by attorneys in the greater Kansas City area for similar professional services," he wrote.

Bruns also said he reduced some of the fees to reflect what he called some of the Washington-based attorneys' "unprofessional" behavior during Wittig's first trial, which ended in mistrial.

The defense team frequently butted heads with U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson and tried unsuccessfully after the trial to have Robinson removed from the case, even appealing to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

"Although the actions of nonlocal counsel in the underlying case appear to be an anomaly, the court finds that their conduct resulted in an increase in fees and expenses that must be considered in determining reasonableness," he wrote.

Adam Hoffinger and Paula Junghans, Wittig's lead attorneys in that case, didn't immediately return phone calls seeking comment. Neither is still with Piper Rudnick.

Wittig and Douglas Lake, Westar's former chief strategy officer, were indicted in 2003 for using a series of alleged schemes to increase their compensation and perks at Westar and trying to hide it from shareholders and regulators.

They were convicted on all counts in their second trial in 2005, but those charges were thrown out by an appeals court last year.

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