The City of Philadelphia confirmed that it is paying legal expenses for Councilman Bobby Henon’s staff, as part of an ongoing federal investigation.
Henon’s council offices in City Hall and Northeast Philadelphia were raided by the FBI in August.
In August, it was reported that Henon’s chief of staff, Courtney Voss, had retained a defense attorney. But the city’s Law Department didn’t confirm until late last week that it is, in fact, paying for that lawyer – criminal defense attorney Angie Halim, who previously represented convicted Philadelphia Traffic Court judge Rob Mulgrew.
This week, a Law Department spokesperson also confirmed that a separate firm had been retained to act as counsel for Henon’s seven other council staffers.
“The law firm of Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott, LLC was asked to be available to answer questions, if any arise, from members of Councilman Henon’s staff pertaining to a government investigation,” said Andrew Richman, chief of staff for City Solicitor Sozi Tulante.
The standard rate for both lawyers is $225 an hour. City charter requires that the city provide outside legal counsel until a criminal indictment is made.
City&State had previously reported that the Law Department was paying high-power criminal defense lawyer Brian McMonagle to act as outside legal counsel to Henon.
Sources at the Law Department confirmed that both Henon and Voss had personally selected their criminal defense lawyers.
Henon and his staff have said little about the investigation itself, which is apparently tied to a larger probe into the finances of the city’s politically powerful electricians union, IBEW 98. The councilman has long held a well-paid, untitled side job at the union, which is ruled by boss John Dougherty.
The councilman issued a brief statement outside his office on Sept. 8 denying any knowledge of the investigation or contact with law enforcement.
“What I can tell you, to date, is that law enforcement has not contacted me or any member of my staff, to my knowledge," he said, at the time.
However, the fact that both Henon and Voss were quickly given personal legal representation by the Law Department may indicate that the FBI did contact city officials about the nature and scope of its investigation, possibly even before the raids took place.
“As soon as a staff member is identified as a subject of the investigation, at that point he or she is entitled to outside counsel,” said criminal defense attorney Bill DeStefano, who represented former state Sen. Vince Fumo in his 2009 corruption trial. “Either the FBI advised council or the city who’s a subject, or the FBI spoke to a staffer during the search or subpoena and ordered the staffer to appear before a grand jury.”
That is likely why Henon and Voss were assigned specific defense lawyers while others were not, he said.
“It could be that the FBI notified the city that Henon is a subject but that certain staffers are not subjects,” he said.
The city pays for outside lawyers because it does not maintain an in-house criminal defense team and city lawyers would have to recuse themselves once criminal charges were filed.
DeStefano said that city employees were allowed to select their own counsel so that they could have a single lawyer throughout their legal tribulations.
“They leave the selection process to the public officials, at least, in every case I can think of. The lawyers are generally happy to do it because these are high profile cases,” he said. “The rationale is that until there are charges, they are presumed to be innocent. They’re entitled to counsel.”
Although DeStefano said this would be an extraordinary step, in a statement, the Law Department suggested that it could resort to garnishing Henon and other employees’ city income to repay the cost of retaining outside lawyers.
“The Law Department retains the right to recoup attorney’s fees and costs that the City has already paid out on an employee’s behalf if it is determined during the course of an investigation that the investigation concerns conduct outside the scope of City employment,” Richman said. “The Law Department can offset those counsel costs against any money owed by the City to the employee, including such sources as employee wages or pension fund payments.”
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Henon's residence had been raided by the FBI.