Solyn­dra lawyers reap green, but not en­ergy

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY JIM MCEL­HAT­TON

Bank­rupt so­lar-panel com­pany Solyn­dra LLC and the crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion into its down­fall have faded from pub­lic view, but the law firm rep­re­sent­ing the com­pany in a grand jury probe qui­etly has stayed busy, rack­ing up nearly a half-mil­lion dol­lars in le­gal fees over the past year, records show.

Aside from doc­u­ment­ing the per­sonal for­tunes of lawyers mak­ing up to $660 per hour, the fees are sig­nif­i­cant be­cause of why the law firm was hired in the first place.

Weeks af­ter Solyn­dra went bank­rupt last year, hav­ing burned through more than a half-bil­lion dol­lars in fed­eral loan money, the com­pany hired the K&L Gates LLC law firm for what lawyers called a “fed­eral crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion.” Now the firm wants to be paid. Its fi­nal bill: $479,885, re­flect­ing nearly 1,200 hours of work, ac­cord­ing to a re­view by The Washington Times of law firm in­voices. About half of the money in­cluded in the firm’s fi­nal bill al­ready has been paid out, ac­cord­ing to the firm’s fee ap­pli­ca­tion filed in U.S. Bank­ruptcy Court in Delaware.

Based on a re­view of ear­lier in­voices filed by K&L Gates, The Times first re­ported last year on the ex­is­tence of a grand jury probe in the wake of Solyn­dra’s down­fall.

At­tor­neys did not re­spond im­me­di­ately to mes­sages on Nov. 21. But Jef­frey Born­stein, a K&L Gates part­ner and former fed­eral pros­e­cu­tor who earned $640 to $660 per hour for his Solyn­dra le­gal work, pre­vi­ously told The Times in an email that the solarpanel maker was co­op­er­at­ing with fed­eral au­thor­i­ties.

With no clear sign of pend­ing charges, the size and scope of the firm’s le­gal work shed at least some light on the se­cre­tive crim­i­nal probe into Solyn­dra, which government of­fi­cials still will nei­ther con­firm nor deny pub­licly.

Asked whether the grand jury probe into Solyn­dra has con­cluded or re­mains ac­tive, Jack Gil­lund, a spokesman for the U.S. at­tor­ney’s of­fice in San Fran­cisco, replied, “We have no com­ment.”

In the firm’s lat­est fee ap­pli­ca­tion, how­ever, K&L Gates stated its lawyers had been com­mu­ni­cat­ing among the com­pany, the U.S. at­tor­ney, the FBI and con­gres­sional staffers, as well as re­spond­ing to sub­poe­nas and other law en­force­ment re­quests.

In­voices pro­vide a more de­tailed look at how at­tor­neys spent their time. A bill re­flect­ing le­gal work per­formed ear­lier this year shows a K&L Gates em­ployee draft­ing a let­ter to “AUSA,” which refers to as­sis­tant U.S. at­tor­ney, con­cern­ing “lap­top doc­u­ments.”

An­other en­try refers to a con­fer­ence with the Jus­tice De­part­ment “re­gard­ing re­sponse to doc­u­ment re­quest.” Yet an­other en­try de­scribes meet­ing with an un­named ven­dor re­gard­ing “copy­ing com­puter im­age for pro­duc­tion to DOJ.”

An ear­lier bill from last year refers to a meet­ing be­tween Mr. Born­stein and an as­sis­tant U.S. at­tor­ney iden­ti­fied as “J. Nedrow.”

Jef­frey Nedrow is a pros­e­cu­tor with the U.S. at­tor­ney’s of­fice for the North­ern District of Cal­i­for­nia. He was a pros­e­cu­tor in the crim­i­nal trial against former San Fran­cisco Giants slug­ger Barry Bonds.

The firm’s fee ap­pli­ca­tion, filed last week, also refers to an ex­hibit con­tain­ing an hour-by-hour ex­pla­na­tion of the firm’s work in re­cent months, in­clud­ing Novem­ber, but that ex­hibit could not be lo­cated on the pub­lic docket. But an­other law firm hired to rep­re­sent the com­pany in its bank­ruptcy listed an en­try in a sep­a­rate le­gal bill “Con­fer with Jeff Born­stein re: up­date on crim­i­nal” as re­cently as Au­gust.

When con­tacted by The Times about the miss­ing en­try, a bank­ruptcy clerk re­ferred the is­sue to at­tor­neys in the case, who did not re­spond by the dead­line for this ar­ti­cle.

De­spite the hun­dreds of hours spent rep­re­sent­ing Solyn­dra in con­nec­tion with var­i­ous in­ves­ti­ga­tions, K&L Gates’ work is hardly a clear sign that the Jus­tice De­part­ment will file charges.

The Jus­tice De­part­ment also has been in­ves­ti­gat­ing the high­pro­file col­lapse of MF Global Hold­ings Ltd., a bro­ker­age headed by former New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine, a big Demo­cratic Party fundraiser. So far, no­body has been charged in that in­ves­ti­ga­tion, and me­dia re­ports have sug­gested that charges are un­likely.

What’s more, R. Todd Neil­son, the former FBI agent hired by Solyn­dra to pore over the com­pany’s fi­nan­cial books, spent months in­ves­ti­gat­ing the com­pany’s col­lapse but ul­ti­mately said he couldn’t come up with any ev­i­dence of crim­i­nal wrong­do­ing.

Serv­ing as Solyn­dra’s chief re­struc­tur­ing of­fi­cer, Mr. Neil­son found no wrong­do­ing by the com­pany. Still, he con­cluded that in­vestors and lenders, in­clud­ing the U.S. government, knew the com­pany faced big risks, such as fall­ing so­lar-panel prices and a global re­ces­sion that cut de­mand sharply.

Mr. Neil­son’s de­tailed report in March con­cluded that “no ma­te­rial funds were di­verted from their orig­i­nal use.”

But weeks af­ter Mr. Neil­son made his find­ings pub­lic, K&L Gates in­voices showed the fed­eral probe re­mained unset­tled with in­ves­ti­ga­tors busy look­ing for their own an­swers.

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