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Gov. Chris Christie‚??s administration has turned to the law firm of Gibbons P.C. of Newark to lead the defense against a whistle-blower lawsuit. / Bob Bielk, Asbury Park (N.J.) Press

TRENTON, N.J. -- Gov. Chris Christie's administration has turned to a familiar heavy-hitting law firm at increased taxpayer cost to lead defense of a whistle-blower lawsuit.

The job is going to Gibbons P.C. of Newark. The firm's attorneys have made $24,000 in political contributions to Christie campaigns since 2009, according to state election finance records. One of Christie's closest advisers, William J. Palatucci, joined Gibbons as special counsel in the corporate section in 2012. Palatucci was co-chairman of Christie's inaugural committee in 2010 and 2014.

Leland Moore, a spokesman for state Attorney General John Hoffman, said Thursday that Gibbons will be paid up to $325 per hour - a discount by Gibbons, but higher than the $200 per hour normally included in state bids for legal work - to defend against charges by former Hunterdon County prosecutor Bennett Barly

n that the Christie administration had indictments quashed to protect prominent supporters of the governor.

Lawyer Peter Torciollo of Gibbons took control of the Barlyn case Tuesday, the New Jersey Law Journal reported, replacing Jane Greenfogel, a deputy attorney general, and other government lawyers who have been representing the state and other defendants since the case was filed two years ago.

"Following the conclusion of several procedural disputes in the state's favor, Mr. Barlyn's case is entering the discovery phase," Moore said. "The Division of Law has engaged outside counsel to assist with discovery and other litigation tasks."

This is not the first time this year in a high-profile case where the Christie administration has tapped outside counsel. It hired another law firm, at increased taxpayer cost, to run an internal investigation of the George Washington Bridge scandal.

Gibson Dunn billed the state $1.1 million for its first three weeks of work in the investigation but the final price is expected to reach roughly $3 million, in part because the probe expanded to include a review of the allegations leveled by Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer that federal Sandy aid was withheld by the state because of the city's unwillingness to approve an unrelated development project.

That's the case even after Gibson Dunn agreed to lower its hourly fee from $650 to $350 and not bill for travel and other expenses, which the firm said cut the bill by nearly half for January.

Patrick Dunican Jr., managing director of Gibbons, declined comment because the Barlyn case "is an active litigation matter.''

Moore from the Attorney General's Office called the agreement for Gibbons to charge $325 per hour for partners, $225 per hour for associates and $90 per hour for non-lawyer staff a "substantial discount from the firm's typical charges."

"Gibbons is on our approved list of firms to handle complex litigation,'' he added.

Moore said there's no estimate of what the firm's bills will total because "it's not possible at this early juncture in the discovery phase of the litigation to determine budget."

A survey of top firms published in the National Law Journal this year placed Gibbons' partner rates at $440 to $865 per hour, with an average of $560; and $295 to $475, with an average of $360, for associates.



Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com

Read the original story: Christie hires high-priced legal team

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