Wednesday, June 26, 2002
County Awards Abbreviated Superior Court Collections Contract
By ROBERT GREENE, Staff Writer
The county Board of Supervisors yesterday awarded one of the nation’s biggest collections agencies a multimillion dollar Los Angeles Superior Court contract to collect delinquent fines and fees, but trimmed the agreement’s term in the wake of hard lobbying by a Dallas law firm that lost out in the bidding.
The battle between GC Services Limited Partnership and the firm of Linebarger Googan Blair Pena & Sampson called to action some of the region’s most powerful lobbyists, stretched out the board’s approval process over two months, and ended with nearly two hours of debate, several inconclusive votes, accusations hurled between the supervisors and an abbreviated two-year term for GC Services, plus two possible one-year extensions.
GC Services—which currently has the collections contract for about 80 percent of delinquent fines owed to the Superior Court—was recommended in April for an expanded contract by a bid panel, the court and the county chief administrative officer. The company, which is based in Houston but has a facility on Irwindale to handle its Superior Court collections, was the recommended vendor in a report to the Board of Supervisors in April.
It estimated that the original three-year contract with two one-year extensions would bring in $600 million at its 15.7 percent commission rate.
But the board delayed awarding the contract after complaints by the Linebarger firm—which placed fourth—that the county RFP failed to include any measure of past performance.
GC Services President Frank Taylor said he was pleased with the outcome despite the delay and the reduction of the contract term from the three years that had been part of the request for proposal.
“We came out the same,” Taylor said. “We are happy to get it renewed.”
Linebarger hired a team of big guns to help argue its case, including MWW Group Senior Vice President Harvey Englander, who ran Supervisor Don Knabe’s successful first run for his seat, and attorney Wayne Avrashow, a former member of Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky’s staff and a Yaroslavsky appointment to a county commission.
David Farrar, a high-powered Los Angeles attorney and member of the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency board—and former law partner of Supervisor Yvonne Burke—appeared before the supervisors as Linebarger’s “managing attorney.”
GC Services answered with Cerrell Associates Inc., the firm that handles elections and re-elections for a number of Superior Court judges, and former Los Angeles Municipal Court judge and Los Angeles County Bar Association president Sheldon Sloan, among others.
At issue was the contract to collect the millions of dollars of traffic fines and other delinquent criminal fines and fees, including attorney fees, that the court loses each year.
The collections formerly were handled individually by each municipal court and the Superior Court, and since court unification GC Services was handling most of the collections. But about 20 percent—representing nine former municipal courts—were being collected by Superior Court employees working out of the Compton-Lynwood courts.
The new contract covers all the courts. Superior Court spokesman Alf Schonbach said 10 court employees, representing annual salary and benefits costs of $430,000 paid by the county, would now be moved to the court’s payroll and would be redeployed elsewhere in the court system.
Although the Superior Court is responsible for the collections and administers the contract, the money goes not to it but to the county general fund.
Linebarger representatives pressed yesterday for the contract to be scrapped and put out to bid again with new criteria based on past performance.
“We have been desperately seeking an audience to describe what we can do for the county,” Linebarger management committee chairman Steve Blair told the board.
But the supervisors repeatedly deadlocked over a contract that under state law requires a four-fifths vote.
Supervisors Gloria Molina and Michael Antonovich insisted on staying with the original county staff recommendation. Antonovich said straying from the RFP would give the county a bad name and he blasted what he called “Chicago-style” contracting.
That brought an objection from Burke and Yaroslavsky.
“Mr. Antonovich I just think people in glass houses ought to be careful,” Yaroslavsky said. “There’s been an awful lot of lobbying, I suspect of you as well.”
Yaroslavsky then expressed doubt about the RFP process, agreeing with Linebarger assertions that the request may have been drawn to favor the incumbent, GC Services.
“That’s something you’ve got to look at in your shop,” he told CAO David Janssen.
The supervisors toyed with splitting the contract and allowed the portion currently handled in-house to be put out for separate bid.
But after several failed votes, Burke offered a shorter term—with provisions for periodic examination of performance by county officials.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company