Wilkins Says Politics Prompted His Firing by Lowery

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Wilkins brandishes document to make his case
  • JB
  • Wilkins brandishes document to make his case
“Things were going fine until Myron Lowery started to think about the chance of his becoming mayor”: That was attorney Ricky Wilkins’ summation of the case Wednesday as he met with reporters in his downtown law office and attempted a point-by-point rebuttal of the man who, a day before, had fired him as a lawyer for the city, Mayor Pro Tem Lowery.

Accusing Lowery of “intellectual dishonesty” and of “besmirching, maligning, slandering my law firm,” Wilkins laid out a flurry of documents to demonstrate that (a) his charges for work on the city’s case against Performa executive John Elkington on the Beale Street matter were reasonable; (b) he had been terminated just as he was about to depose Elkington and attempt closure on the case; and (c) Lowery’s political ambitions were “absolutely responsible” for his firing.

Wilkins also said that the fees his firm charged the city included services performed by his legal associate Sharon Loy, who accompanied him at the press conference, and by various ancillary personnel, including contract lawyers, an audit firm, and expert consultants. He handed out several itemized documents to establish the fact.

He also brandished a list of the 27 law firms, including his own, that had charged the city legal fees since 2005. Wilkin’s firm headed the list, with total fees paid of $2,024,855.79, but he maintained that the city stood to recover some $6 million from Elkington’s company in money contractually owed the city, plus another potential $4 million in interest and other offsetting costs, including, presumably, the recovery of his own fees at trial.

In announcing Wilkins’ firing Tuesday, Lowery had called the fees charged by Wilkins an “outrage” and argued that they amounted to more than the city might expect to regain from Elkington, Beale Street’s longtime developer by contract with the city. That charge, said Wilkins, resulted from Lowery’s being “completely ignorant about the details” of the case. The mayor pro tem has indicated he is interested in reaching a settlement with Elkington and Performa.

“The City of Memphis is being undermined,” said Wilkins, who argued that he had finally arranged a deposition date later this month for Elkington, "a master of delaying and distorting this thing from going forward," who, Wilkins said, had for years pursued a variety of dilatory tactics “designed to cause the city to grow weary” of pursuing its case.

“My character has been under attack….I’ve fought toe to toe with the biggest, brightest lawyers in town,” Wilkins said, adding that he had left “no stone unturned” in completing his original charge from former Mayor Willie Herenton to “get Elkington out” and recover monies owed the city.

Wilkins said the fees his firm charged the city varied over the years in accordance with the volume of activity and were levied for a variety of legal services beyond those associated with the Beale Street case. He said both Lowery as councilman and Jack Sammons, a former councilman now serving as the mayor pro tem’s CAO, had in years past explicitly authorized and approved the services Lowery is now questioning.

The city's long-term commitment to the cases had included a period, Wilkins noted, in which former city attorney Sara Hall had taken the burden of litigation back "in house" before resolving to out-source it again to Wilkins' firm. He said his immersion in the details of the case was "second to none" and included a time, before he founded his own law firm, when he was a young lawyer affiliated with the firm of Burch, Porter, and Johnson.

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