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Village's Legal Fees Spike With New Development on the Horizon

Between 2010 and July of 2012, the village has logged more than $1.2 million in attorney fees to build the necessary paper foundation for new development projects in the village.

If you ever want a rough picture of how much new development is on the way in a community, just take a look at its legal fees.

In Menomonee Falls, those fees totaled roughly $1.2 million since 2010.

On a regular basis, the village contracts out the specialized tasks of drafting development agreements, development plans, real estate transactions, deed preparation, and title commitments to outside law firms. In a period of time when Falls development is spiking, so do its legal fees.

Between 2009 and 2010, the total amount of legal fees jumped from $277,000 to $530,000. The bulk of those 2010 costs were associated with work completed by Von Briesen & Roper, which is a Milwaukee-based law firm. Village Manager Mark Fitzgerald said the village has partnered with the law firm for decades because of the firm’s expertise in negotiations and contract drafting.

Menomonee Falls Legal Fees (2007- July 2012) Year Total 2007 $242,872 2008 $313,645 2009 $277,285 2010 $530,594 2011 $532,492 2012 (through July 23) $207,133

In 2011, the village once again exceeded the $500,000 mark, and totaled $532,000 in legal fees. As of July 2012, the village’s legal fees have totaled $207,000. Since 2007, 15 different law firms have been contracted by the village to complete work.

“The bulk of the fees are really all oriented toward some of the major economic projects we were working on. In that timeframe (2010 to 2011) we were working on Kohl’s, Eaton, the (Radisson) hotel, and TID #8,” Fitzgerald said. “The implementation of the Kohl’s development process will require us to complete more real estate closings and transactions moving forward.”

Fitzgerald said the village paid itself $130,000 upfront for attorney fees associated with the Radisson Hotel when it approved the bond issue for the project. The fees were paid as part of the financing, and will be paid back in part from the regular operations of the hotel.

The taxing district, or TID #8, includes land just off of Highway 41/45 and Pilgrim Road. The village as an area of improvement, and will invest roughly $30 million in infrastructure on the site to clear the way for new development.

In July, the village . The corporation plans to expand its headquarters campus in Menomonee Falls. Fitzgerald said attorneys spent some 5,000 hours total preparing the multi-faceted Kohl’s deal.

“As we’ve completed planning for a couple of those major projects, we should be lower on attorney’s fees,” Fitzgerald said. “We still have some transaction and implementation work to do. But much of the work is in fact behind us.”

Fitzgerald said legal fees associated with new development do not come out of the general property tax levy. Rather, the fees are folded into the overall financing costs for taxing district projects. Each taxing district includes its own budget, and costs fronted by the village are expected to be paid back in time with the incremental tax value generated from new development.

The village does employ its own attorney, Michael Morse, but Morse is in charge of day-to-day legal issues at the village. For example, Morse researched and crafted a new ordinance .

Top Five Firms With Most Total Legal Fees (2007- July 2012) Law Firm Total Von Briesen & Roper $934,894.72 Arenz, Molter, Macy, Riffle & Larson $606,543.22 Michael, Best & Friedrich $223,749.19 Davis & Kuelthau $118,987.44 Quarles & Brady $82,201

“The village attorney is more of a day-to-day specialist for legal issues,” Fitzgerald said. “These large development projects consume a lot of time and we don’t really take those on in house.”

Fitzgerald said in the long run, contracting services is cost effective since fees are paid on a project-by-project basis rather than paying for additional permanent, full-time village employees.

The second largest attorney expense is for village prosecution in municipal court. Since 2007, the law firm Arenz, Molter, Macy, Riffle & Larson have received roughly $100,000 from the village each year. Those costs are budgeted capital expenditures.

However, the Fitzgerald said they have lowered those prosecution costs by utilizing interns more often from the law firm rather than employing fully licensed attorneys.

“Much of municipal court prosecution is a standard process, and we are using interns to do more of that standard work,” Fitzgerald said. “Fully licensed attorneys are utilized to do the more difficult or unusual court cases.”

Jann August 13, 2012 at 08:49 PM
I'd like to know which firm advised them on the Radisson disaster. Did the Village pay them and not the contractors? At least the contractors did a nice job on the place but any law firm should have had the brains to advise against loaning the millions.
Carl Engelking August 13, 2012 at 09:35 PM
I believe Von Briesen has been handling the ongoing Radisson litigation, but as the article stated funds were allotted for attorneys as part of the initial bond issue for the hotel. How they consulted with the village with the Radisson is something I will pursue further.
Jann August 13, 2012 at 10:05 PM
Thanks Carl. But it also sounded like funds were allotted for the contractors also and yet they didn't get paid. Unless they have now.
Carl Engelking August 13, 2012 at 10:14 PM
I don't think contractors have yet been paid
Stockbroker August 14, 2012 at 09:19 AM
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W . Benz August 18, 2012 at 07:13 PM
What law firm did Morse work for before Greco gave him this job.
Jefferson E. Davis September 26, 2012 at 12:59 AM
Jann: Bill Taibl, von Briesen & Roper, s.c., was the outside attorney who recommended the Village Manager and Village Attorney to recommend approval by the Village Board for the nearly $18,000,000 taxpayer funded loan that is now in default, headed for probable foreclosure and a possible sheriff's auction if the parties can't reach an agreement by November 19th to avoid the sheriff's auction on the steps of the Waukesha County Courthouse. The recommendation and approval took place in April/May of 2010 against the warnings of some village residents who tried to sound the alarm bells and were ignored and scoffed at by Village Staff and Village Board. The Radisson Hotel debacle is not entirely the fault of von Briesen & Roper, s.c. because the Village Manager, Village Attorney and Village Board all looked at the same documents from the hotel owners and apparently didn't do their due diligence putting all taxpayers in a very precarious situation. Usually when mistakes of this magnitude are made like this that are so egregious, people lose their jobs and positions of public office.
Jefferson E. Davis September 26, 2012 at 01:39 AM
Mc Roy: It will come as no surprise to you that Mike Morse worked for von Briesen & Roper, s.c. before Joe Greco made him the Village's full-time attorney in the late '90's for a position that has the potential of a compensation and benefit package of somewhere around $150,000+/- a year. Mike Morse's wife, Beth Foy, also received a nearly $900,000 no-bid contract from MMSD for a "public relations" agreement while working out of her home in Menomonee Falls at the time within 60 days after Joe Greco was soundly defeated in 2003. Many at the time suggested Beth Foy received the nearly $900,000 no-bid contract from MMSD and John Norquist in exchange for Joe Greco single handidly undermining the FLOW communities in their efforts to prevent the multi-million dollar lump sum cash payouts ($28,000,000 alone from the Falls in '96) to MMSD, annual property taxes in the millions (about $5,000,000 a year) from Falls homeowners going to MMSD based on the value of their homes, annual MMSD hook-up charge ($130.00 per homeowner or another $1,400,000 cumulatively) and for unbelievably high user fees (about $1,400,000 a year) for homeowners in the Falls that is all hidden in the quarterly water and sewer bills. They must be part of the 1% that President Obama keeps referring to.

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