Detroit Land Bank charges outrageous fees to reveal attorney costs

A Detroit Land Bank demolition. Photos By Steve Neavling.

Correction: An earlier version of the story stated that one attorney was charging $950 an hour. The actual cost is $760 an hour because the Land Bank receives a 20% discount.  

The Detroit Land Bank is demanding nearly $600 for records that show how much the public agency is charging taxpayers for high-priced attorneys to handle a federal investigation into the city’s massive demolition program.

Motor City Muckraker requested the records under the Freedom of Information Act last month. The Land Bank responded late last week, saying it would cost at least $591 to divulge the attorney fees, even though the information is confined to one page on each monthly invoice and contains no privileged information. Here is an example of the page containing the monthly bill:

One invoice obtained by Motor City Muckraker reveals the Land Bank is paying one attorney $760 an hour.

The Land Bank hired two law firms – Washington D.C.-based WilmerHale and Michigan-based Miller, Canfield, Paddock and Stone – to handle the ongoing federal investigation.

The Land Bank also declined to divulge records that show how the agency is paying for the attorneys, saying no such records exist.

To produce the attorney bills, the Land Bank maintains it will take about seven hours at $84.37 an hour to review the records and make redactions on approximately 14 itemized invoices.

Asked Monday why the Land Bank couldn’t release the summary page of the final monthly costs, attorney Wayne Garris said he would consider it. But as of Tuesday morning, the Land Bank has not divulged the information or returned our calls, even though the deadline to produce the records has expired.

Public agencies are required to disclose records within 15 business days of a FOIA request.

The Land Bank is prohibited from using federal demolition funds on legal bills, so it must rely on city tax dollars.

Federal investigators are examining the rising cost of demolitions and potential fraud.

In October, Wayne State University also charged excessive fees for basic records and still refuses to turn over the information.

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Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.