This is a reprint from the September 3, 2014 Mongoose newsletter. This is a long article and my proof consists of many pages of pay vouchers that Alicia Franklin submitted the month before she became a judge. Click here to read my complete, 19 page article: “Alicia Franklin Submitted CPS Pay Vouchers That Simply Cannot Be True.” This article includes my legal explanation of why knowingly submitting a false CPS pay voucher to the county for payment is a crime.
Attorneys, like Alicia Franklin, appointed by judges to represent abused children or their parents in CPS cases, must sign the pay vouchers they submit to the county. In the family courts, the vouchers say that they are submitted “under penalty of perjury.”
Thursday, May 1, 2014 – 21.0 hoursFriday, May 2, 2014 – 11.25 hours
Monday, May 5, 2014 – 23.50 hours
Franklin’s billing on these days is only for the work on CPS cases that the county pays for and does not take into account any work she did on her private cases. All of this billing supposedly happened while she was campaigning like crazy for a runoff election three weeks away. Early voting for the runoff started May 18 and the election was May 27.
Out of curiosity, I checked to see how many hours I billed on those days in my private practice for clients and here is what I found
May 1 – 9.45 hours
May 2 – 8.5 hours
May 5 – 6.65 hours
May 6 – 10.0 hours.
I work really hard as a lawyer and those hours billed by me are at the very high end of what I usually bill in total for one day. There are plenty of days when I bill three hours or less. The most hours I have billed in one day that I can recall in my 27 year legal career is 14 hours and that involved a jury trial.
A March 8, 2013 Op-ed article in the New York Times entitled “The Tyranny of the Billable Hour” discussed billing expectations for young lawyers at large, slave-driving Manhattan law firms and said, “Most big firms require associates to bill at least 1,900 hours a year, according to a survey last year by NALP, the National Association for Legal Career Professionals…. Billing 2,000 hours a year isn’t easy. It typically takes at least 50 hours a week to bill an honest 40 hours to a client.” A lawyer expected to bill 1,900 hours in a year would have to bill clients a total of 36.5 hours every seven days. In these four days in May, Ms. Franklin billed the county 74.50 hours on CPS cases and that did not include any work she did on her private cases. There were only a total of 96 hours in those four days. At the rate Franklin was billing during those four days, her total hours billed in a year would be over double what big New York City law firms expect of their overworked associate attorneys and those attorneys would not also be running for judge.
Given my firm belief that knowingly submitting a false pay voucher to the county is a crime, I desperately tried to think of a way to explain Franklin’s billing that does not result in the conclusion she committed a crime. It does not help that Judge Franklin is not providing me any explanation for this billing. I e-mailed about a dozen really smart, experienced family lawyers with these facts and asked them to imagine what possible explanation for these billing totals could be. Other than the obvious excuse that Franklin made a mistake on her dates, sadly no one could think of any explanation. A “typographical” error on billing dates is an unlikely explanation because these vouchers are handwritten in Franklin’s own neat, precise printing.
Rounding up from five minutes on a phone call to a quarter of an hour, as many lawyers in private practice do, is not an excuse for Franklin either because: (1) she has no contract with the county that allows her to round up and bill for work she did not actually do, and (2) I have checked and mathematically, that does not reduce the number of hours she billed on three of these days to a believable number.
The attorneys I e-mailed about this issue collectively represent a few centuries of combined legal experience, and all those who replied agreed with me that Ms. Franklin simply could not have worked the hours she billed the county for on these days.
I hear through others that Franklin is going to claim that her invoices on these days included work done by her associate attorney. The problem with that defense is that it proves her invoices were false because they clearly purport to show legal work done only by Alicia Franklin. The Texas Family Code speaks of an attorney ad litem as singular person, not a law firm. There is no statutory authority that allows a judge to appoint a specific person to represent a child and then allow another lawyer to work and bill in that appointed position. If Governor Perry were, through some miracle, to appoint me to the Board of Regents for the University of Texas, I could not send my brother to appear for me at board meetings and then bill the State as if I had done that work.
I truly hope that Franklin has not engaged in what CPS insiders call “repeat billing.” This is one strategy developed by some of the attorneys who live off of CPS appointments to increase what they are paid by the judges. “Repeat billing” is a euphemism for illegal double billing and it involves submitting time for work on a case in one month and then perhaps two months, later submitting the same time on the same case. The judge on the second appearance cannot possibly recall what he approved on a voucher weeks before and he does not have all vouchers submitted in the case before him. If caught, the attorney can always claim it was an innocent clerical error. This allows the attorney to get paid twice for the same work.
My full paper on this topic includes examples of anomalies found in Franklin’s billing, which at least make it appear that Franklin could be sometimes billing the county twice for the same work.
Franklin’s CPS pay vouchers are all handwritten (presumably in her own hand) and she bills in quarter hour increments. In contrast, other CPS ad litem attorneys submit typed pay vouchers that appear to be created by billing software programs. Other CPS attorneys, such as Ronnie Harrison, bill in time increments as short as 0.05 hours or 3 minutes, which is a much better bargain for the county. My full article includes samples of the time sheets submitted by Franklin and three other ad litem attorneys for “out of court” work. The contrast between these samples of billing by ad litems is striking and makes Franklin’s bills look very haphazardly slapped together and unprofessional. George Clevenger’s bills for his CPS work are particularly professional looking and I suspect I may have to prospectively take back everything I have not yet written about him. I concede it is possible to be politically well connected and do a good job on cases and accurately bill the county. It is not fair for me to pre-judge anyone.
I am paying someone now to analyze every invoice for CPS work Ms. Franklin submitted to the county for the entire year of 2013. I had him start with March 2013 and we have already found a day, March 20, 2013, with 20.25 total hours billed by Franklin.
I do not think Franklin is the only attorney submitting false bills to the county for court appointments in CPS work. Unfortunately for her, Franklin’s vouchers (ordered from the County Auditor) arrived before other vouchers I have ordered. Unlike the other attorneys who I believe are involved in this practice, however, Franklin is now a judge. That makes this a really big deal.
A prominent female criminal defense attorney in San Antonio was just sentenced to ten years in prison for double billing the county on criminal appointments (and forging judges’ signatures).
This matter should be investigated by someone other than District Attorney Devon Anderson, who first bungled the Judge Pratt investigation then let Pratt off the hook criminally once I found proof even the judge could not deny. Anderson is running on the same Republican ticket this year as Franklin and she is tied into the same political power brokers who are themselves involved with this CPS billing scandal. We need a “prosecutor pro tem” appointed who will actually look into this mess vigorously and objectively. This prosecutor should be from a city far from Houston and not have any ties to the political establishment that currently runs this county. If Franklin did nothing wrong, then a truly independent prosecutor should determine that (which is what I sincerely hope happens).
I would really like to think that Franklin did not knowingly submit these false bills to the county. However, any defendant accused of such a crime would claim “it was a clerical error!” How will such a smart lady ever convince us she could make such mistakes?
The first thing law enforcement should look for are the actual time records kept by Alicia Franklin on her CPS cases. It is clear that these CPS pay vouchers I have seen were filled out by hand by Franklin all on the same day, so they are not contemporaneous records a lawyer would make at the time to record his or her billable time. I sincerely hope that there are such time records to be found!