Inside New York City’s Law Department, the case is named Matter No. 2016-013018. It goes by an even more mysterious title in the city’s $10 million contract with outside criminal defense lawyers: John Doe Investigation.
But for New Yorkers, the matter is better known as the federal inquiry into Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, and his aides, one that is said to focus on whether they traded favorable government actions for political contributions.
Last week, the de Blasio administration quietly filed with the city’s comptroller its contract with a law firm, Debevoise & Plimpton, that has for months been acting as outside counsel for the mayor and his aides. The contract, obtained by The New York Times through a request under the state Freedom of Information Law, offers the most detailed look yet at the cost of defending actions that the mayor has insisted were appropriate and legal.
The Law Department, which arranged for the legal services through negotiation as opposed to a competitive bid process, described in concise terms its need for a firm “with expertise in criminal defense law to provide legal services in support of the John Doe Investigation and any related litigation.”
The department checked several boxes saying it required a contractor to “obtain special expertise” not available at the agency, “provide services not needed on a long-term basis,” “accomplish work within a limited amount of time” and “avoid a conflict of interest.” The city’s corporation counsel, who oversees the department, waived a requirement for a public hearing on the contract, the documents show, on the ground that a hearing could “disclose litigation strategy.”
The de Blasio administration, prompted by required budgetary reports, has in recent days offered a limited accounting of its spending on outside lawyers: $6.5 million through the end of the year for overlapping investigations of the mayor, said Eric F. Phillips, Mr. de Blasio’s spokesman.
That amount includes $400,000 for lawyers at Carter Ledyard & Milburn, who have helped defend the city in state and local inquiries — including one by the comptroller — into the sale in February of Rivington House, a former nursing home in Manhattan whose deed restricted use of the property to nonprofit residential health care. Mr. Phillips declined to comment on whether the firm continued to work for the city on that matter.
Mr. de Blasio, asked at a news conference on Friday about the costs, said: “We’ve been asked to provide information; we’ve been very, very cooperative, and as many times as the investigators want to talk to members of the administration, of course they will have that opportunity. But each time requires preparation and representation. That’s why.”
A Law Department spokesman declined to reply to a list of questions about the contract.