Tuesday, November 21, 2017
Business

Citizens insurance wants to hire a lawyer for $1 million

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TALLAHASSEE — Troubled Citizens Property Insurance is proposing to spend more than $1 million annually on an attorney who, according to the job description, wouldn't spend much time in a courtroom.

The Citizens Board of Governors will decide today whether to have West Palm Beach lawyer Scott Link oversee all claims litigation and manage the law firms that contract with the insurance company.

Link's hourly rate is $525, and his fees are expected to add up to $1.05 million annually.

Critics say that's an outrageous expense for an entity already besieged by allegations of excessive executive spending. They also note that Link once worked with Tom Grady, a former interim Citizens chief and close ally of Gov. Rick Scott.

"This is another insider government giveaway," said state Rep. Frank Artiles, R-Miami. "Citizens is subsidizing its friends and family using policyholders' money."

Neither Link nor Grady returned calls seeking comment. Citizens spokesman Michael Peltier said politics did not factor into the recommendation.

"This contract was competitively bid," Peltier said. "The evaluators were folks within Citizens who are on the ground, trying these cases and paying these claims." Peltier said the salary was fair given the scale of the job.

Link isn't new to Citizens. In 2012, his firm, Ackerman, Link and Sartory, won a $1.5 million two-year contract to coordinate all claims related to sinkholes.

That contract was also competitively bid, but in an expedited fashion. The window for applying lasted less than two weeks.

As the lead attorney on the coordinating team, Link charged an hourly rate of $525. It is not clear from the fee schedule how many hours he was expected to work, or how much he was expected to earn on an annual basis.

At the time, Citizens was accused of delaying lawsuits to appear more profitable than it was. Link was tasked with bringing cases to trial more quickly and shifting the defense strategy.

Peltier said the coordinating team had saved Citizens policyholders millions of dollars.

"The results we got back were positive," Peltier said. "We decided it would be in the best interest of Citizens and our policyholders to expand that coordinating counsel service to all of our claims."

A procurement team recommended Link and his firm for the expanded job.

The new contract, valued at $6.5 million over the next three years, replaces the old contract held by Link and his team. It includes Link's fees and smaller payments for attorneys and paralegals in his firm.

Jay Neal, president of the Florida Association for Insurance Reform, said he agreed with the idea of a coordinating counsel. But he takes issue with the cost.

"They are paying this firm a lot of money," Neal said. "This could be done in a far more cost-effective way by hiring someone in-house."

The board of governors meets at 9 a.m. at the Alfond Inn in Winter Park.

Kathleen McGrory can be reached at [email protected]

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