FERGUSON, Mo. — Ferguson is paying an attorney $1,335 an hour to help the St. Louis suburb negotiate and possibly litigate reforms pressed by the Justice Department since Michael Brown’s shooting death by a police officer there last summer, according to a newspaper report.
The Ferguson City Council unanimously decided behind closed doors in March to hire Dan K. Webb of suburban Chicago at an hourly rate that is nearly double Missouri’s highest attorney billing rate last year, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. That tab doesn’t include the expenses and fees of any lawyers or paralegals in Webb’s firm who may work on the case.
The highest billing rate in Missouri in 2014 was $700 an hour, according to Missouri Lawyers Weekly.
Webb, 69, is a former federal prosecutor whose clients in private practice have included Philip Morris, Microsoft, the New York Stock Exchange and former Illinois Gov. George Ryan, a Republican who served prison time after being convicted of federal racketeering and fraud charges.
Webb prosecuted former National Security Adviser John Poindexter during the Iran-Contra scandal, leading to Poindexter’s conviction of conspiring to mislead Congress, obstructing congressional inquiries and making false statements. That conviction was overturned on appeal.
Webb will work with the Justice Department, which spent seven months probing Ferguson’s police department and municipal court after white Ferguson officer Darren Wilson fatally shot Brown, an unarmed, black 18-year-old, in August.
A St. Louis County grand jury and the U.S. Justice Department declined to prosecute Wilson, who resigned in November. But the Justice Department released a scathing report citing racial bias and racial profiling in the Ferguson Police Department and a profit-driven municipal court system that frequently targeted black residents.
After the report, Ferguson’s city manager, police chief and municipal judge resigned. The municipal court clerk was fired for racist emails.
Now it’s up to the Justice Department and the city to negotiate an agreement to reform the police department and municipal court.
A Ferguson spokesman declined to publicly discuss the hiring of Webb.
Brian Fletcher, a Ferguson council member elected in April, said the city faces a $2 million to $3 million budget deficit for the fiscal year ending June 30, and will likely face a similar deficit next year. That’s without the cost of implementing any reforms or paying Webb’s legal bill.
“The city wanted somebody who could try the case if necessary if they had to. But they don’t want to do that,” Webb told the newspaper. “And it’s clear to me that the Department of Justice doesn’t want to do that. I have resolved a lot of cases in my time.”