April 24, 2014

UPDATE: State fires five attorneys over “improper” billings

A state audit has concluded the State Public Defender’s Office overpaid a Spencer attorney tens of thousands of dollars for representing indigent clients.

The special investigation by the state auditor’s office indicates Ney McDaniel was “improperly” paid $177,755.35 over a three-and-a-half year period, from the fall of 2007 through March 31st of 2011. His contract with the state has been terminated. State Auditor Mary Mosiman says auditors in her office discovered McDaniel claimed to have worked more than 24 hours a day on at least 80 different days.

“They do not turn in invoices per day,” Mosiman says of lawyer who serve as public defenders. “They turn in invoices per case and that’s not unusual. That’s a fairly typical procedure.”

For instance, the investigation found McDaniel submitted 33 different claims for work on just one day. On September 3, 2008, Mosiman says the paperwork shows McDaniel claimed to have worked more than 45 hours on 38 different cases. Mosiman says auditors in her office have seen this kind of subterfuge before.

“So there are processes in place developed by us where we can go in — it’s very detail oriented,” Mosiman says. “It’s very time-consuming, but it has been seen by us before in previous audits.”

The investigation was launched after the Clay County Attorney expressed concerns about the claims McDaniel was submitting. The State Public Defender’s Office is part of the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals and the auditor has recommended the agency start tracking hours claimed by day.

“Government entities have a responsibility to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars and that’s why the processes need to be in place that you can determine that the expenses involved are reasonable and that they are justifiable,” Mosiman says.

Public Defender Sam Langholz — in a statement released this morning — said the McDaniel case spawned an ongoing statewide review of the program and to date, the contracts of four other attorneys have been terminated.

Guy Cook, president of The Iowa State Bar Association, also issued a statement noting that the association represents more than 8,000 Iowa attorneys. “This audit represents an isolated aberration, involving five lawyers. Simply put, a few bad apples do not spoil the barrel,” Cook stated. “Any abuses of the program, however, need to be promptly corrected.”

McDaniel — the Spencer attorney who is the subject of the audit — referred questions to David L. Brown, his Des Moines attorney. Brown has not issued a response to the audit.