A former Illinois Congressman who redecorated his Capitol Hill office in an extravagant “Downton Abbey” style and then was indicted in 2016 for federal campaign finance violations has won a dispute over attorney fees against his former counsel, the Bopp Law Firm in Terre Haute.
Aaron Schock, then a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, and his campaign committee, Schock for Congress, prevailed in a ruling from the Vigo Superior Court issued Thursday that found the plaintiffs paid $94,262.38 for legal services that carried a “reasonable value” of $30,000. The case is The Bopp Law Firm, P.C. v. Schock for Congress and Aaron Schock, 84D03-1608-CC-004967.
“We are pleased with the result,” said Schock’s attorney Paul Jefferson, partner at McNeely Stephenson. “Lawyers should not represent they have expertise they do not have, and should communicate the scope of their representation and who is responsible for fees clearly in their engagement letters. While we find justice was served, this situation – particularly with a law firm that has the reputation of The Bopp Law Firm – is regrettable.”
James Bopp Jr., of the Bopp Law Firm, did not return a call seeking comment by IL deadline.
According to the ruling from the Vigo Superior Court, Schock for Congress hired the Bopp attorneys in the spring of 2015 after Schock was given a subpoena to testify before a grand jury and was ordered to produce a variety of financial records. The law firm was to represent the campaign committee in the investigations by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Election Commission. Primarily, the firm was to respond to a subpoena from the U.S. Attorney’s Office and to act as the trustee of the committee’s finances.
The firm’s engagement letter defined the client as “Schock for Congress” and stated the client would pay the “usual and customary hourly rate” for the firm’s attorneys, which included $790 an hour for Bopp and $550 per hour for Randy Elf.
From April through September 2015, the firm invoiced Schock for Congress for a total of $258,058.25. The campaign paid the bills for April and May but did not cover any of the other invoices that came in after its Illinois offices were raided by the FBI on June 4, 2015.
The court noted that in his deposition, Schock stated, “(O)nce the search warrant was executed, the primary role of the Bopp Law Firm to respond to the supoenas was over.”
Also, Karen Haney, an employee of Schock for Congress, stated in her deposition that she had concerns about the firm’s invoices, notably, “Inaccurate billing. Inadequate work.” She specifically testified that Elf billed for three days of work in June 2015 at the campaign office but was only seen in the office once for about three hours.
The court found the firm did respond to routine document subpoenas but “failed to timely product documents which ultimately led to the execution of a search warrant on SFC campaign office.”
Also, the court barred the Bopp Law office from recovering legal fees charged by Elf because the firm failed to tell Schock for Congress of problems with the attorney’s billings. Testimony at trial noted Elf had submitted inaccurate and questionable billing records.
Elf resigned when confronted by the firm, but the firm never informed Schock for Congress. Instead the Bopp Law Office adjusted the amount on its invoices by 50%.
The court found the testimony of the defendant’s expert, Ray Biederman, Indianapolis attorney and chief operating office of Proteus Discovery Group, to be “informative and convincing.” Biederman testified the subpoenas in this case were routine and his company could have “adequately responded” within two weeks at a cost of no more than $30,000.
Per the court ruling, Schock for Congress will not have to cover the unpaid invoices totaling $163,795.87 from Bopp Law office. The defendants have not made any decision if it will try to recover the $64,262.38 that the court found it was overbilled.
“We are reviewing our options and awaiting a decision regarding an appeal,” Jefferson said. “Obviously my client believes the Bopp Law Firm has a duty to refund the difference, but we have not made any court filings asking for that.”