The Alabama Department of Corrections has 31 new legal contracts pending with outside lawyers, including one capped at nearly $10 million to represent the state in the 2020 lawsuit brought by the U.S. Department of Justice over conditions in men’s prisons.
Most of the contracts are with Bill Lunsford, who has become ADOC’s go-to private attorney, according to the Legislative Contract Review Committee’s agenda for its Thursday meeting.
Last month, the agency had three new contracts with Lunsford, of Butler Snow’s Huntsville law office, totaling more than $7 million, including one related to the nine-year-old federal Braggs v. Dunn.
The other contracts on Thursday’s agenda, most of them with Lunsford and related to different lawsuits, are capped at $200,000.
Lunsford was previously with the firm Maynard Cooper and ADOC on Wednesday told Alabama Daily News several of new contracts are related to that move to Butler Snow and aren’t for additional funds.
“They are replacement contracts for the same funds, but they had to be resubmitted as new contracts because of state comptroller rules when an attorney changes firms,” a department said in an email.
According to the contract review agenda’s explanation of the $9.9 million, two-year contract, “it is anticipated that the litigation will be complex and document intensive. Mr. Lunsford’s representation in Braggs provides needed insight to ensure that the ADOC’s best interest is served in both cases.”
The Braggs lawsuit was filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2014 on behalf of a group of inmates over the conditions within the prisons and lack of medical and mental health care.
It’s possible the state doesn’t reach that nearly $10 million cap on the contract on the DOJ lawsuit, but the department’s outside legal expenses have exploded in the last decade. The Decatur Daily reported in 2013 that ADOC’s legal expenses in 2011 were less than $1 million. In 2012, they were about $1.1 million.
According to state spending records, ADOC has spent about $2 million on legal contracts this year, most of that for Lunsford’s expertise.
Last year, ADOC had $7.1 million in payments to outside lawyers, mostly Lunsford.
That committee can question and delay contracts, but it can’t amend or end them. Members include Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Range, the chairman of the Senate General Fund budget committee.
While the construction of two large prisons is expected to improve conditions and care within ADOC, Albritton said he doesn’t think new litigation will totally stop.
“This is a gravy train to all those who wish to make money off the state, i.e., lawyers,” Albritton said. “The easiest target in the world is Alabama DOC for lawsuits.”
The committee of lawmakers can’t do much beyond ask questions and voice concerns, he said.
“… It is extremely frustrating to the legislators because we make the noise and shake the trees … (and agencies) just go ahead with (contracts) because they don’t know of another option.”
“It is more economically feasible for a lawyer or a contractor or an auto mechanic to work outside the state and to bill the state rather than to be employed by the state.”