No details available on $435/hr attorney fees totaling $15,000+ to-date for Roder on the ‘Goodhue Matter’

David Lillehaug Al Roder On the discussion thread attached to the Special Council meeting blog post, I noted that Northfield City Administrator Al Roder’s attorney, David Lillehaug, has billed $15,768 for fees thus far on the ‘Goodhue matter.’ 

I wondered how much per hour Lillehaug was charging and what it was he was doing since the Goodhue County investigators had not even talked to Roder yet, according to this June 27 Nfld News story:

Roder’s attorney, David Lillehaug, said Friday that his client has been cooperating with Goodhue investigators for some time and from his review of the facts, Roder has done nothing wrong. Roder has maintained he hasn’t been in contact with investigators.

So I filed a data request earlier this week requesting “itemized invoices of legal work performed by David Lillehaug for Al Roder and reimbursed/paid for by the city.”

I got 30 pages back today (for which I had to pay photocopy expenses of $7.50) but alas, City Attorney Maren Swanson redacted all details regarding what Lillehaug was invoicing for. Under Minn. Stat. 13.43, “personnel data” means, in part, data on individuals collected because the individual is an employee of the city…”

Goodhue matter correspondenceGoodhue matter correspondence Goodhue matter correspondence 

See my photos of the correspondence and some examples of the invoices, one of which I’ve drawn red arrows to indicate where the redactions occurred.

Are Swanson’s arguments for the redactions legit? What could Lillehaug have done for 35 hours if Roder’s not even been interviewed yet?

I’m not sure what to make of all this. It’s easy to be outraged because it’s taxpayer dollars flying out the door and we’re being kept in the dark. But maybe conversation will help illuminate things a bit.

Update 7/18, 9:20 am:

Goodhue matter correspondence

Dave DeLong also requested this information and this morning, he handed me a copy of a related memo (dated July 7) from City Finance Director Kathleen McBride in which she explains how it happened that she paid the $2,068 beyond the authorized $7,500.

The statement was processed for payment by city staff and I attached the supporting invoices (being held) and approved payment — in error. I apologize for my oversight. The previous invoices were routed through Maren Swanson and forwarded to me for payment processing.

So now we know how it happened, but of course the question remains: who was the ‘city staff’ who processed the payment?

26 thoughts on “No details available on $435/hr attorney fees totaling $15,000+ to-date for Roder on the ‘Goodhue Matter’”

  1. It seems like some itemization detail would not be unnecessarily revealing, for example:

    “Phone call with client”

    “Meeting in Red Wing with Goodhue County investigator”

    “Lexis/Nexis research”

    “Read chapter 3 of Denison, Iowa: Searching for the Soul of America Through the Secrets of a Midwest Town”

    “Browsed Locally Grown blog”

  2. Dave DeLong also requested this information and this morning, he handed me a copy of a related memo (dated July 7) from City Finance Director Kathleen McBride in which she explains how it happened that she paid the $2,068 beyond the authorized $7,500.

    The statement was processed for payment by city staff and I attached the supporting invoices (being held) and approved payment — in error. I apologize for my oversight. The previous invoices were routed through Maren Swanson and forwarded to me for payment processing.

    So now we know how it happened, but of course the question remains: who was the ‘city staff’ who processed the payment?

    FYI, I’ve updated the blog post above with this info and a photo of the memo and related invoice.

  3. Did Lillihaug invoice Roder for attending meetings/time spent advising him on the Everett investigation? If so, that would seem to be out-of-bounds, as Lillehaug is only supposed to be representing Roder on the ‘Goodhue matter.’

  4. I agree with you Griff, Marin has a heavy hand when it came to redacting these memos. After all they are submitting a bill to a public body. If they didn’t want the information public, don’t submit the bill. Tax payers have a right to know how and for what their tax dollars are being spent.

    Not withstanding the state of redaction, It certainly does appear that the approved process was subject to an end around play. It certainly doesn’t look good at all. Maybe it will look better after I get back from Kids Day at the Rice County Fair. I would put that on my twitter but alas I’m like Ross.

  5. Based on the wording of the News story of June 27 that Griff quotes, I’m confused: How is it that “(Roder) has been cooperating with Goodhue investigators for some time” according to Mr. Lillehaug, but “Roder has maintained he hasn’t been in contact with investigators.”

    These two statements exclude each other, don’t they?

  6. Maybe I am naive but does Northfield pay an attorney to review the appropriateness of other attorneys fees ?

    The objections are a bit hard to envision, “In my professional opinion, given the complexity and heavy stakes for our community, Mr Wolf’s taking of a chicken for breakfast, 2-3 chickens for lunch and a half dozen chickens for dinner would seem reasonable … perhaps the additional 2 lambs border excessive.” ~ C. Fox Esq.

  7. This is all just wrong. Even though some details have been redacted, these invoices and payments show a disrespect for council authority, disregard of the City attorney, discounting of proper methods put in place to protect public money from being used for personal use.
    Is this misappropriation of public funds? Theft by deception? Larceny by trick? Fraud? What then?
    Can some one tell me what it is when you submit a bill despite that fact that you’ve been told there is no more money. That if you want further bills paid you have to get further approval. You disregard that fact and the specifically authorized manner to allow payment. Instead you talk someone in your office to do it in a different way, not the approved way but a method by which you did receive the money previously denied. Did he talk some one in his office into request this payment? There is only a typewritten name on the voucher.Did that person really prepare it? What would you do if your boss said could you run this though for me? Who’s fault is it really when you’re playing by the rules but the other person turns a blind eye to the rules when he can obtain his desired outcome? This one is beyond me. I feel this is wrong but don’t know what to do next. At the risk of opening up a can of worms, any suggestions, any body?

  8. David deL: I have a suggestion … come to the open mic Monday night and ask these same exact questions directly to the council.

    I doubt you will get an answer, or answers, but you will be putting your questions out to the viewing public.

    You risk getting assailed, when you have no further opportunity to respond, by councilors who have recently taken to criticizing public comment (of those they are elected to represent) a la the Roder/Dirks incident… this has been an increasingly familiar scenario.

    I think you should also write an opinion piece to the paper, just asking your questions; the general public needs to think about these questions. Some will say what difference does it make, because Mr. Roder is leaving: but will this behavior continue with the remaining councilors, even after the election?

  9. I’ve been silent for a year. Especially when Mr. Luedscher has slurred my name and reputation. I figure it’s time to share a bit of the other side. Shortly after I arrived as Chief in Northfield, Mr. Luedscher called me to inquire if I would approve the early release of one of his clients form Dakota Detox. I checked the report and said I would. I then discovered in the court papers (filed by Luedscher in the wrong county with the wrong judge) the he made the allegation that Northfield Officers were using detox as a punishment when subjects arrested for DUI refused to test. I later learned from the director of the detox center that Mr. Ludescher called his staff and attempted to get them to agree to state that Northfield officers were doing this. I got the director to write down the conversation and his concerns as he felt Mr. Ludescher was out of line. I provided this information to the Rice County Judges and to the Rice County attorney’s office with a complaint of falsely accusing Northfield Officers and slandering the reputation of this department and myself as chief.

    In another incident, Mr. Ludescher stated that Northfield officers were arresting Hispanic drivers for driving while Hispanic, a direct paraphrase from a recent article in the ACLU news letter of which I’m a member. I wrote to Mr. Ludescher and suggested he may want to attribute original statements to the original author.

    On a more recent incident, while president of the Chamber, Mr. Luedscher made some disparaging comments about Northfield officers during a alcohol compliance check again making insinuations of some type of impropriety on the part of Northfield officers doing a state mandated compliance training. I again asked Mr. Ludescher if there was some conflict between him or his firm representing any of those businesses fined but he never responded. He was also upset about my contacting the chamber about my concerns so he insinuated he would be contacting Mr. Roder about my activities. I suggested he go ahead an do so.

    There are others to illustrate but I thing you get the idea. It’s easy to stab a guy when he’s not around. As Mr. Ludescher should very well know being an attorney, that an investigation is sealed until the prosecutor decides to ask the court to unseal it. The Northfield News just reported this very thing.

    My integrity is my trade. In light of recent articles in the Northfield News, reassuring calls from many friends and former coworkers, I hold my head up high. I do pray for the additional four young people who have died in spite of our efforts. Regardless of whether you agree or no, I pray you devote your time and energy to less bashing of current and former city officials and the health and welfare of your current young people and those making an honest attempt to save them.

  10. Gary: Your statements are neither accurate nor helpful.

    For example, after I told a judge that in “my experience” this was happening, the prosecutor supplied the data which showed that the statistical probability that detox was being used as punishment was 99.93% (assuming complete randomness).

    Even if the statements about me were accurate, I don’t see how airing your grievances against me in public is helpful for Northfield to deal with its drug problem, or deal with governance issues. Some facts from you would be more helpful.

    I supported your efforts to solve problems. But, in a constitutional democracy, the police must do so within the letter and spirit of the law. Someone needs to point out when they fail to do so; attorneys are the front line against abuses of power, no matter how well-intentioned.

  11. In speaking with the city attorney’s office about the matter they felt differently as did several of the other attorneys I spoke to. I won’t trouble the readers here about other details for now. I made my point in the spirit of a balanced discussion.

  12. Gary – will you share the frustrations you had with process or people in addressing drug problems in Northfield prior to going public with the heroin press conference ? I think a lot of people in Northfield, for constructive purposes, would really like to know your side of this issue.

  13. hey Griff; Thread drift alert !!!

    Isn’t there a “heroin one year later” or something, thread?
    The issues between Chief Smith and David L. are illuminating in some ways, but this should stay with the legal fees issue. I’m sure there are a lot of related questions people would like to ask Gary Smith, if he says connected here.

    I wonder if the “legal fees issue” will be resolved at tomorrow’s council meeting…

  14. Gary: I was off a decimal point. There was a 99.993% chance that the unequal police enforcement was not based upon chance. (Post #11).

    Further, I don’t believe that your statement about sealed investigations is accurate as applied to you. You could have chosen to make the allegations known before reporting them as you did. It is only the investigating authorities who can’t reveal the nature of the investigation once it is turned over.

    Perhaps we should have these discussions out of the public eye before we both look foolish.

  15. Nice try councilor. Most defense attorneys would love to try most cases in the public “court.” I’ll leave it up to the prosecutors and any decision they make. Last time I checked, my primary goal as a police officer is to protect the innocent, please tell me how revealing information that has not been viewed by a prosecutor for their consideration provides any due consideration for any innocent individual(s) involved? Since there was political interference with the initial process of the inquiry I’ll leave it up to the prosecutors to determine what, if anything will come of the information provided and investigated. At the direction of the city attorney, I turned the information over to the Rice County attorney. At that point it is his decision as to what, if anything happens to the information.

    As for issues of frustration with drug issues, I outlined many of them in my previous post last year. Some were revealed in the News and quite frankly, anybody worth their salt as a police administrator has tons of detractors who will take pot shots at them when the opportunity prevents itself. Whether it’s the community member who talks about the last chief at a public presentation that he describes as someone who talks and talks and talks and talks at council meetings when he isn’t there to respond or the quiet Northfield coffee clicks who were more concerned about image than substance. I will tell you those concerns move beyond substance abuse but also include issues of human rights, respect for individuals of color and just common decency.

    At this point I’m not sure rehashing old news will benefit the process. Most seem to have their minds made up. I fully expect at some point to have the opportunity to redress any concerns. Whether that be in a formal setting or informal setting. As time allows or the postings present the opportunity, I will try to show the other side of the issue as to why there be motivations to continually raise issues that would appear to be valid at this point.

    The last thing I want to do is bias or interfere with any investigation that is underway until it is fully resolved and is public information.

  16. David de Long gave a thorough and concise explanation at the council meeting last night, of the tracking of the legal fees and bills for Mr. Roder’s legal bills from Attny. Lillehaug. With regard to the overpayment, It raised questions as to simple error, ignoring of the council’s resolution which had a limited $$ amount, or internal pressure. I’d like to think “simple error”.

    It was difficult to hear, with no response from council, especially during the time when the two senior councilors are negotiating Mr. Roder’s separation agreement with him.

    The report on that negotiation was pulled from the agenda last night with no explanation except that the negotiation had not been completed.

  17. David L: For God’s sake, this is NOT one year ago! Please quit taking this thread a year back in time.
    Barb Wornson was just named director of the four Sobriety High schools in the Cities. On Saturday, at the college graduation party of a kid who is one of NF’s, as a community, great success stories, Barb said she thought gary’s numbers were as close to accurate as one could get. If you recall, barb was one of the movers and shakers that got the much needed ALC going.

    Please, David, just answer this … WHO would you believe?

  18. Kiffi: Then what is the big fuss over paying Roder’s legal fees to defend against Smith’s unspecified allegations from a year ago? Why should he pay money out of his own pocket to fight these secret allegations?

  19. David L: Re: your post of July 22, 5:53 pm … I don’t see what this question has to do with the drug and other issues you were arguing with Gary Smith about , or the question I asked you … but I’ll answer anyway.

    The only fuss about paying Mr. Roder’s legal fees is that those fees have been paid in excess of the amount allowed by council’s own resolution, and it is rather questionable as to how and why the excess was paid; to say nothing of the council thinking its OK to violate one of their own resolutions. And that some council person’s are inclined to continue to paying his fees without a cap.

    However, if the city is indemnified (is that the right term?) to pay legal fees for an employee, under some circumstances, there is a possibility that this will all be moot.

    I would think you, as an attorney, would understand why at this point in a criminal investigation the allegations are not yet public.

    So “the Fuss” is about the process, and the possible misuse of that process.

  20. David L: I think the concern is that there is criticism of Gary Smith for investigating allegations against the city administrator. I, for one, cannot think of a better person to investigate an alleged crime than the police, but there seems to be some concern that “the police” was Gary Smith. I think this put Gary Smith in a tough spot so he turned the matter over to Rice County who turned it over to Goodhue.

    I don’t think he should have made the allegations public–I think he followed the proper procedure.

    Most citizens have a difficult time understanding how someone can run up an attorney bill without ever having to answer any questions by the investigators or ever having to supply information to the investigators. Most of the general public would wait to hire an attorney until we were charged or arrested because we would not want to incur the expense.

    I understant that the city administrator may need to defend himself on the city’s dime if he was accused of misconduct in that office. However, so far, Mr. Roder has not been accused, yet he has incurred 15,000 in attorney’s fees. This just seems excessive to most of us who are not regularly hiring attorney’s to consult with us in case we might be investigated.

    I don’t believe the city of Northfield is being responsible when it approved attorney;’s fees “up to $7,500” before any charges or allegations were made public. I don’t think they should pay any attorney fees until they know what they are paying for.

    For example, if a city employee is stealing from the city and has to hire an attorney, I don’t think the city should pay for attorney’s fees for that employee–no matter what their position.

    We don’t know what the possible allegations are that are being investigated–why should the city even pay one dollar until they know what the allegations are? Mr. Roder could have gone without an attorney this entire time, not incurred one cent of fees, and may never be charged, and would have saved the city thousands of dollars–and would not have been harmed one bit. Instead, there are thousands of dollars paid by the city, including more than $2000 paid in error, for Mr. Roder’s attorney to talk to the Goodhue investigators?

    I think if Mr. Roder had asked for special medical reimbursements to see a counselor to help him maintain during this tumultuous year, it would have been a reasonable request and money well spent. (Although our societal prejudice against mental health would have made this an unlikely scenario.)

    To pay an attorney to monitor an investigation that is going no where is a bit on the silly side. If and when an attorney is needed by Mr. Roder, that is the time to hire one. Paying one to be on standby just in case you are charged with a crime is a bit much.

    David L, since you are a defense attorney who has a history of opposing the Northfield Police (because you are defending those who are charged,) perhaps you have some prejudice against Gary Smith, and because you are an attorney perhaps you have a prejudice regarding when legal fees are excesive.

    Most people think 15 grand is way too much to pay an attorney for just about anything, and never find it appealing. (I know this is shocking for most attorneys.) I bet if Mr. Roder did not have the city on the line for paying, he would not have incurred these fees.

  21. A further concern on this issue of legal fees, is that the concept of paying Mr. Roder’s ongoing legal fees is tied into the negotiations of his severance agreement. (Which calls for NO severance if he resigns;which he did)

    So what is holding up the negotiations ?? , pursued by Councilors Vohs and Pokorney, that were presumably to be completed by the last council meeting on Monday, but were not according to Vohs, when he pulled the item from the agenda.

    One might assume if it were YES/NO, the negotations would be completed rather quickly; one might assume since they are not completed the discussion is HOW MUCH/for HOW LONG on the legal fees, and HOW MUCH/ZERO? on the severance dollars.

    Councilor Vohs said to me, (outside City hall around 7PM, last Tuesday) when I asked him why we would pay severance in this situation, he said, “Not a cent, No, not a cent”. So I guess what I thought was stated as a firmly held position by Mr. Vohs, has weakened into a lesser position.
    Given how most people seem to feel about paying severance in this case, I sure wouldn’t want to be a councilperson doing this negotiation, and also running for re-election. Whew!!!

  22. Jane: Mr. Roder has been accused. Mr. Smith said that he presented a preliminary criminal investigation against Roder. He deserves an attorney at the public expense.

    And, yes, I do have a bias. I believe a person is innocent until proven guilty. Until it is proven beyond a reasonable doubt, I think that Roder should have all of his fees paid.

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