Mat-Su firm awarded Anchorage legal defense contract

Nathaniel Herz

The Assembly is poised to award a $1.1 million annual contract to a law firm to defend people being prosecuted by the city who can't afford their own attorneys.

Denali Law Group, based in Wasilla, got the job after winning a competitive proposal process over Gorton and Logue, which had held the city contract for more than 26 years.

Neither of the two firms, nor the city, would release either of the two competing proposals. But Denali Law Group's rate was cheaper, said Dee Ennis, a city attorney who chaired the committee that evaluated the bids.

"Denali Law Group's proposal was lower," she said. "So that was it."

The Assembly still must approve the award, but it is unlikely to encounter any resistance there, according to Assemblyman Dick Traini.

Under the contract, the city will pay Denali Law Group $1.11 million a year. It's unclear how much Gorton and Logue had asked for, but that firm was paid $1.23 million in 2011 and $1.13 million in 2012, and they are expected to make $1.12 million this year, according to numbers provided by the city's purchasing department.

An attorney at Denali Law Group, Richard Payne, said he had bid the contract at "slightly cheaper" than Gorton and Logue's past earnings.

"We saw an opportunity, and we acted on that opportunity because we knew we could do it," Payne said.

He added that the real benefit would come from his firm's willingness to go paperless. Payne maintained that such a move would save the city "a fortune," though neither he nor Sullivan administration officials could immediately provide an estimate of how much costs could be reduced.

Gorton and Logue initially lodged a 35-page protest after city's selection of Denali Law Group, which contained a letter from state District Court Judge Gregory Motyka.

The protest contained a laundry list of accusations of "material irregularities," including "unresolved questions" about the involvement in the procurement process of Dennis Wheeler, the city attorney, who is a good friend of Payne's.

But, according to Payne, that protest has since been withdrawn, and the two firms have reached an agreement on the transfer of existing cases.

James Gorton, the founder of Gorton and Logue, declined to comment.

Denali Law Group now plans to open an Anchorage office and hire as many as five attorneys. Some of those could come from Gorton and Logue, after the firm's attorneys are interviewed by Denali Law Group this Saturday, Payne said.

The new contract is for one year, with options to renew for two more years. Denali Law Group will defend people who are being accused of misdemeanors committed under city code and cannot afford their own attorneys.

The law firm could handle some 5,000 cases a year, including drunken driving, domestic violence, assaults, and thefts, according to the city's request for proposals.

That's a large number for a handful of lawyers, but the majority of the cases are straightforward, said Jon Marc Petersen, another Denali Law Group attorney.

"To say they're not complicated is an understatement," he said.

Denali Law Group already does similar work in the Mat-Su Borough under a state contract, Peterson added.

The firm considered -- but ultimately passed up -- an opportunity to bid on the Anchorage contract three years ago, which left Gorton and Logue the only proposer.

"We thought we weren't ready for it," Petersen said.

Reach Nathaniel Herz at or 257-4311.