Providence treasurer refuses to pay law firm hired in Councilman Jackson recall

The Providence Board of Canvassers meets to discuss the recall of Councilman Kevin Jackson. (Photo by Dan McGowan/WPRI 12)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The city treasurer is refusing to pay the outside law firm hired to represent the Providence Board of Canvassers while City Councilman Kevin Jackson challenges an attempt to recall him from office.

Donoghue Barrett & Singal is currently owed more than $30,000 for its work in November, but treasurer James Lombardi call it “unconscionable to spend taxpayer dollars on this issue when you have 20 attorneys on staff.”

“I have been questioning the hiring of a firm and am withholding payment to obtain detailed information on the charges and to determine if the proper procedures were followed on the hiring,” Lombardi told Target 12.

An invoice obtained through a public records request shows Donoghue Barrett & Singal billed the city $32,875 on Dec. 6, but Lombardi said Friday no payment has been made. The firm, which is charging the city $200 per hour, claimed two attorneys and a paralegal worked 125.8 hours during the month of November.

The firm, which also represents the city on a challenge to its 2013 pension reform agreement, was hired after Jackson and his attorneys objected to hundreds of signatures a group of constituents in Ward 3 collected in an attempt to initiate a recall of the councilman. Jackson is facing a felony embezzlement charge stemming from his arrest in May.

Emily Crowell, a spokesperson for Mayor Jorge Elorza, said it is common for the city to hire outside lawyers “who specialize in particular matters.” She said the firm will continue representing the board of canvassers “until the matter is completed.”

The board met for more than three hours on Nov. 4 as Jackson’s attorneys, Artin Coloian and Daniel Calabro, claimed dozens of signatures should be ruled invalid. Lombardi, who is personal friends with Jackson and Coloian, attended the hearing.

In the end, the board disqualified only eight signatures and held seven for further review, leaving the recall group with well over the 300 signatures needed to continue the recall process.

The group is now in the process of collecting roughly 2,000 signatures – 20% of the voters in Ward 3 – by next month. If they are successful, Ward 3 voters will be asked to vote yes or no on whether they wish to recall Jackson. If he is recalled, a special election will be held.

Jackson has filed a complaint against the board with R.I. Board of Election. If the group does submit the next round of signatures, he will likely challenge those as well.

A 58-year-old Democrat, Jackson has represented Ward 3 on the East Side since 1995. Prosecutors allege Jackson embezzled $127,153 from the Providence Cobras youth track-and-field team, an organization that received more than $67,000 in taxpayer-funded city donations between 2005 and 2015. He is also accused of using $12,000 in campaign funds on personal expenses. He has pleaded not guilty.

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Dan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan