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Housing Authority Pays Hodgson Russ $1.16 Million Over Two Years

Here’s a fun fact: Between October 2011 and October 2013, the Buffalo Municpal Housing Authority paid the downtown law firm Hodgson Russ $1,163,129.37 for the firm’s services as outside counsel in a variety of matters, including union negotiations and lawsuits involving vendors, tenants, and employees.

That’s a lot of money for a housing agency that serves the city’s poor to spend on lawyering, even in comparison to BMHA’s previous profligacies: The last period for which we have numbers, from January 1, 2006 to September 20, 2010, BMHA paid Hodgson Russ $463,386.53 for legal services. So, in the last two years, BMHA has paid Hodgson Russ more than twice what it paid the firm over a previous period that covered more than four years.

In that same period of more than four years, BMHA paid just under $300,000 to four other firms for legal services, too—meaning the billing by just one firm, Hodgson Russ, over the past two years eclipses BMHA’s entire outside counsel expenditures over the earlier period of four-plus years.

Here’s another fun fact: Artvoice acquired the numbers for the 2006-2010 period by filing a request under the state’s Freedom of Information Law with BMHA’s on-staff legal counsel. (At the time, that was Paul Wolf, who is an occasional contributor to this paper now. Wolf was very helpful.) The latest numbers—the $1.16 million over two years—came to us courtesy of BMHA resident commissioner Joe Mascia.

As a commissioner, Mascia is entitled—indeed, expected—to keep an eye on the BMHA’s financials. And yet the current on-staff legal counsel for BMHA, David Rodriguez, forced Mascia to file a FOIL request before he would provide the information. In recent months, Mascia has been forced to file FOIL requests for other information regarding BMHA operations, as well, and to pay for copies of the documents he requested.

An authority requiring one of its own commissioners to file a FOIL to get the information he needs to do his job: If that’s not a new low in the annals of government opacity, I’d like to hear something worse.

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