Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt on Tuesday denied he was granting political favors in hiring a law firm without going out for bid.
Democrats have accused Schmidt, a Republican, of showing favoritism in hiring Foulston Siefkin in a sole-source contract to represent the state in a lawsuit filed by Planned Parenthood. Democrats have noted that a partner in Foulston Siefkin, Harvey Sorensen, was co-chairman of Schmidt’s 2010 campaign.
“It is the responsibility of the attorney general to provide for the defense of the state in lawsuits,” said Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka. “What I find disturbing is that the attorney general is awarding a state contract to political cronies on a no-bid basis,” Hensley said.
But Schmidt said he hired Foulston Siefkin because that was the best legal move in defending the state budget law that denies Planned Parenthood of $334,000 in federal family planning funds.
Schmidt said Planned Parenthood and other entities in the lawsuit are represented by nationally and internationally known law firms.
“Clearly, the plaintiffs in that case brought in the big guns,” he said.
Schmidt said his civil litigation division has 10 attorneys handling more than 600 case files with 300 of those in litigation. Foulston Siefkin, he said, is the largest law firm in Kansas with approximately 90 lawyers. Also, Schmidt said, he had to act quickly because the judge in the case set an initial hearing just a week after the law took effect.
Of the Democrats’ charge, Schmidt said there are attorneys with Foulston Siefkin who supported him and some who supported his Democratic opponent, former Attorney General Steve Six.
His choice of Foulston Siefkin was in the best interest of the state officials who were sued, he said.
He said the same considerations went into hiring Stephen McAllister as outside counsel in lawsuits filed against the state’s new abortion clinic regulations. That was also a no-bid contract.
Under the Foulston Siefkin contract, the rates for four attorneys are $300 per hour, while three other attorneys will earn from $160 per hour to $260 per hour. A paralegal will be paid $115 per hour.
Under the contract with McAllister, he will receive $250 per hour, while three other attorneys will receive from $175 per hour to $225 per hour. A paralegal will make $75 per hour.
Both contracts say the costs to the state shall not exceed $100,000, but those terms can be changed.
The Kansas Democratic Party also blasted Schmidt for Deputy Attorney General Jeff Chanay being involved in awarding the sole-source contracts.
In the 1990s, Chanay had been a partner in Entz & Chanay, which received a multimillion dollar no-bid contract from then-Attorney General Carla Stovall to represent the state in the tobacco settlement.
The hiring of the firm — where Stovall had once worked — prompted passage by the Legislature of tighter bid restrictions.
“It’s troubling to see A.G. Schmidt putting someone that cost the state millions of dollars in charge of awarding ‘no bid’ contracts for outside counsel,” said Kenny Johnston, executive director of the Kansas Democratic Party.
But Schmidt said the Democratic Party’s criticism of Chanay was off base.
“He’s a rock-solid lawyer. The state is getting years of seasoned experience in civil litigation on a state salary,” he said of Chanay.