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Here’s how much it cost to investigate a Louisville Metro Council member for ethics violations

Louisville Metro Council Member Anthony Piagentini and his attorney J. Brooken Smith have spent the week denying allegations that the council member broke ethics laws.
Lily Burris
/
LPM
Louisville Metro Council Member Anthony Piagentini and his attorney J. Brooken Smith have spent the week denying allegations that the council member broke ethics laws.

The ethics investigation and public hearing for Metro Council Republican Anthony Piagentini will cost taxpayers at least $193K.

The costs come from attorneys’ fees, equipment rentals and copies of official transcripts, according to records obtained by the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.

Together, the records show that over the course of eight months the city racked up a total bill of $193,000 to investigate Piagentini’s ethics violations.

Piagentini, a District 19 Republican and chair of the Metro Council’s minority caucus, came under investigation in March after KyCIR revealed he’d taken a job with a nonprofit after helping the group get a $40 million federal COVID-19 relief grant.

He said he did nothing wrong. But the Louisville Metro ethics commission found otherwise. The seven-member appointed body determined in October that Piagentini broke the rules by using his official position for unwarranted gain and recommended he be removed from the Metro Council.

He is appealing the decision in Jefferson Circuit Court.

A group of council Democrats have already filed formal removal charges and the city’s legislative body will hold a public trial to determine Piagentini’s fate early next year.

The spending records reviewed by KyCIR only include costs associated with the ethics commission’s investigation and hearing.

Most of the cost came from attorneys’ fees.

And Piagentini’s attorney — J. Brooken Smith — billed the most. Smith’s legal firm charged $111,500 in fees between April and November this year, the records show.

The records are heavily redacted and don’t reveal every single item Smith billed the city for, but they show he charged $200 an hour and performed a range of legal services during the investigation and subsequent trial — from filing motions, interviewing witnesses and attending meetings.

Attorney Kent Wicker represented Kevin Fields, a local nonprofit leader who filed the complaint against Piagentini. Wicker’s legal firm charged $150 an hour and billed the city $40,800, according to the records.

The Louisville Metro ethics ordinance allows the city to pay attorneys’ fees for both the person who filed the complaint and the person under investigation. But the ordinance caps those costs at $35,000, collectively. It’s not clear if Piagentini or Fields will be required to reimburse the city for any costs — neither the Jefferson County attorney’s office nor the city’s ethics commission responded to a request for comment for this story.

Piagentini, in a phone interview Wednesday, said the Jefferson County Attorney approved the invoices. Piagentini said the county attorney doesn’t actually enforce the spending limit policy.

The reason? “Due process,” he said.

Other costs came from Todd Lewis, the attorney for the ethics commission. He billed the city $21,500 for his time working on Piagentini’s case. Additionally, attorneys and city officials spent neary $20,000 on court reporters, transcript copies and AV equipment for the public hearing that was held at the Main Library in downtown Louisville, the records show. The records don’t show how much Jim Griffin, the investigator hired by the ethics commission to lead the inquiry into Piagentini, was paid.

In the past, Piagentini has criticized government spending on issues related to lawsuits and protesting.

The job he took that led to the ethics investigation pays $240,000 a year. As a council member, he earns a salary of $53,800 annually.

Investigative Reporter Lily Burris is a corps member with Report For America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Email Lily at lburris@lpm.org.