Water Authority mum on what it got for $129,000 in legal advice

The Erie County Water Authority last year declared a purchasing “emergency” so it could hire a law firm and then racked up more than $129,500 in legal fees.

But agency officials won’t say what kind of legal work $129,500 buys.

They also won’t precisely explain why they hired Philips Lytle last November or what the lawyers are doing.

The legal expenses started after Investigative Post, a nonprofit investigative journalism organization, published a story Nov. 7, which aired on WGRZ, that accused the authority of cutting corners in its water testing for lead. One of its reporters, Dan Telvock, also showed up at an agency board meeting and attempted to confront commissioners about the lead testing.

At the board’s next meeting in December, the commissioners approved funding for a “state of emergency” and agreed to hire a politically connected lawyer at Philips Lytle at a rate of $400 per hour “to represent the Erie County Water Authority in action against Investigative Post for improper conduct,” according to documents The Buffalo News received from the authority in response to Freedom of Information Law request.

The Buffalo News began looking into the legal expenses after making a routine inquiry about the broadly worded emergency purchasing resolution “to provide expert advice and representation and review legal and potential environmental issues.”

When no one with the authority would offer even a minimal explanation, The News filed two FOIL requests.

In response to The News’s most recent FOIL request from June, the authority responded by providing heavily redacted invoices from Phillips Lytle that cover professional services from Nov. 15 through May 16. Those invoices totaled $129,507.

The News has filed an appeal, asserting that the redactions exceeded what is allowed under attorney-client privilege. Even though the FOIL request sought all invoices related to the Investigative Post matter, no mention of  “Investigative Post” can…

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