The longtime outside attorney contracted by the New Orleans Civil Service Commission is seeking more than $70,000 in back pay he says he’s owed by the city of New Orleans.
Overdue hourly fees for Gilbert Buras’ legal services date back to October 2013, according to documents obtained through a public records request.
The Lens requested the documents after the Civil Service Commission published and then later removed an item regarding Buras’ contract from its February meeting agenda. The documents include the original agenda, a proposed settlement agreement from the City Attorney’s Office and email communications between Buras and Civil Service Commissioners. In the emails, Buras says that he has only been paid a small portion of more than $110,000 in billings since late 2013.
“My outstanding invoices total $71,975.33,” Buras wrote in a January email to Civil Service Commissioners. “Please consider that this amount of money and the length of time it has been due is now having a significant adverse impact on me.”
This isn’t the first time the city has lagged in paying him. In a 2011 email, then-commission Chairman Kevin Wildes told First Deputy Mayor Andy Kopplin that, by December, Buras had not yet received a single payment for the year.
It’s unclear why the city most recently failed to make the payments. Buras declined to comment, and officials with Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s office have not responded to repeated requests for comment.
In an email this week to Civil Service Commissioners, obtained by The Lens, City Attorney Sharonda Williams blames the non-payment on the lack of paperwork regarding Buras, writing, “As you likely know, the City cannot process a payment through its system without a document (contract or other agreement) supporting the payment.”
She goes on to write that Buras had disputed some of the language in a December agreement offer from her office. It’s not clear if Williams is referring to a new contract for Buras — first approved by the commission in mid-2014 but apparently still not finalized with Landrieu’s signature — or to the settlement proposal.
“I don’t know why,” said Civil Service Commissioner Ron McClain in a phone interview. “But I do know that it doesn’t appear to be in the hands of the commission.”
Buras’ dispute underscores his difficult position as lawyer for the independent commission. Though the commission is his client, he’s paid by the city, and his contracts are signed by Landrieu.
Further complicating things, the commission is occasionally at odds with the city in litigation, as it has been since late 2013 in at least one high-profile federal case challenging the city’s takeover of the police detail system, a requirement under the federal consent decree over the New Orleans Police Department. The commission did not seek to dismantle the new city office overseeing police moonlighting, but it argued that when the City Council established detail pay rates in August 2013, it infringed on the commission’s authority, established by the state constitution, to set the pay for city employees.
The commission’s challenge failed in U.S. District Court, but it has appealed the decision.
The documents also include a proposed settlement offer from the City Attorney’s Office in the amount of $69,644. The unsigned document, which includes a confidentiality clause, is attached in an email from Buras to commissioners. According to the settlement, Buras’ billings were well above his most recently signed agreement with the city, valued at $15,000. But Buras’ Jan. 8, 2015 email to commissioners notes that Landrieu had yet to sign a contract the commission approved the previous May. That draft contract has a maximum value of $30,000.
The settlement proposal also includes a confidentiality clause and purports to terminate any active contract Buras has with the commission, even though the commission, and not the City Attorney’s Office, is his client.
“I’m not sure of everything that’s going on,” McClain said. “But I think he needs to get paid. He earned the money.”