Nashville’s city council will appoint a special committee with subpoena power to investigate whether there was improper use of public money during Mayor Megan Barry’s affair with her former top security officer.
A Memphis-based law firm, with guidance from a prominent attorney with a storied legal career, is the pick to lead a special Metro Council committee’s investigation into Nashville Mayor Megan Barry’s use of taxpayer dollars during her affair with her former police bodyguard.
The seven-member special committee, formed last month and meeting for the second time Thursday, voted 5-0 to recommend going outside of Nashville by hiring Burch Porter & Johnson out of Memphis to lead the probe. Councilwoman Erica Gilmore was absent. Councilwoman Brenda Haywood did no vote.
The firm was the preference over the Memphis office of Butler Snow, a national firm with 21 offices, including in Nashville, where it has a strong lobbying presence at the Tennessee General Assembly. Both were recommended for the job by Vice Mayor David Briley, who was tasked with searching for legal counsel.
The full council will take up the contract with Burch Porter & Johnson on Tuesday. It would be valued at $395 an hour — considered the firm’s public rate for representing governmental entities. Butler Snow, the runner-up, proposed a $420 hourly rate.
Former Tennessee AG, past lawyer for MLK to lead investigation
Leading the investigation on behalf of Burch Porter & Johnson would be Mike Cody, former attorney general under then-Republican Gov. Lamar Alexander from 1984 to 1988 after serving as U.S. attorney for the Western District of Tennessee from 1977 to 1981. Cody is famously known for years earlier representing Martin Luther King Jr. prior to the civil rights leader’s assassination in Memphis in 1968.
If Butler Snow had been the pick, legal counsel would have been led by attorney Edward Stanton III who works from Butler Snow’s Memphis office.
At-large Councilman Bob Mendes, one of the committee members, said he had a “very slight preference” for Burch Porter & Johnson because, unlike Butler Snow, it has no Nashville office. He worried the Nashville presence might lead to unnecessary questions from media.
Mendes applauded the work of the Butler Snow lawyers he knows in Nashville and said he has “100 percent faith” they would follow procedures to stay out of the investigation.
“But I feel like there’s a small chance that we might send the media into a hunting expedition for figuring out what contacts exist even if we’ve got their secure promise that their Nashville office won’t be involved,” Mendes said.
Councilman Robert Swope, another committee member, noted the lower hourly rate of Burch Porter & Johnson: “It may not mean a lot to us, but it means a lot to a lot of people,” he said.
►More: Nashville council committee investigating Mayor Barry picks chair, begins search for law firm
► More: Nashville council approves special investigation into public money related to Mayor Megan Barry’s affair
► Opinion: Editorial | Mayor Megan Barry must resign for Nashville’s sake
Committee votes to have lawyers, auditor begin talks
Barry is represented by former U.S attorney Jerry Martin.
The council committee also voted to direct Metro Auditor Mark Swann — whose office was tapped for the investigation last month — to begin preliminary talks with Burch Porter & Johnson on the scope of their work.
Cody would be joined by three other attorneys in his investigation of Barry, who on Jan. 31 admitted to a nearly two-year affair with her former bodyguard, Sgt. Robert Forrest. Forrest earned more than $170,000 in overtime during that time and went on 10 city-funded trips taken by just Barry and Forrest alone.
Briley recommended either Burch Porter Johnson or the Memphis office of Butler Snow after deciding the committee should avoid Nashville law offices to limit the potential for conflicts. He said the two finalists were qualified for the job, proposed fees that were reasonable and had diversity plans in place
“I am confident that either of these firms will do an excellent job for the committee,” Briley wrote in a letter to the committee Thursday.
12 law firms expressed interest; nine formally applied
Briley, who tapped the Nashville Bar Association and Napier-Looby Bar Association to publicize the search for legal counsel, said he received interest from 12 firms that included national, regional and local firms from Tennessee, Kentucky and Washington, D.C. He said nine firms provided detailed information in a cover letter that addressed criteria laid out by the committee.
Briley said he spent “considerable time” reviewing the materials. But he said he found the use of an evaluation rubric “ultimately frustrating as I could not objectively distinguish between any of the firms when it came to the factors I initially considered — legal expertise, diversity efforts and lack of a legal conflict of interest.”
As a result, he said he determined it would be best to select a firm outside of Nashville to “avoid any appearance of a conflict, either as result of the firm’s relationship with the city, Metro Government or me personally,” Briley said.
Briley is a lawyer at Bone McCallester Norton.
“With that in mind, I first focused on those firms in Tennessee but outside Nashville. Fortunately, two firms from Memphis expressed interest,” he said.
►More: Nashville’s internal auditor tapped for council investigation into expenses during Mayor Barry’s affair
In addition, Briley said picking law firms based in Tennessee would be cheaper than hiring firms, from Washington for example, that would have to fly in to Nashville.
The committee, which directed Briley to lead the search for a law firm, was launched by council vote on Feb. 6 after Barry admitted to the affair.
Metro council member at large Bob Mendes asks for support of his bill to investigate Mayor Megan Barry’s with the head of her security detail, at a meeting Feb. 6, 2018.
George Walker IV / The Tennessean
The group, which is chaired by Councilwoman Burkley Allen, agreed to meet next after Tuesday’s council meeting and then again on March 15. The committee’s work is in addition to a separate investigation by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation that was requested by Davidson County District Attorney Glenn Funk.
TBI says it has obtained nude photos of a woman taken on the phone of former Sgt. Rob Forrest, evidence that investigators believe shows Nashville Mayor Megan Barry engaged in an affair with her former bodyguard on duty.
Michael Schwab / USA TODAY NETWORK – Tennessee
The investigation committee, which has subpoena power, was the first like it to be created by the Nashville council for an investigation of a public official since 1974. Whereas the TBI is reviewing the potential violation of state crimes during the affair, the special committee is reviewing possible misuse of public funds.
Reach Joey Garrison at 615-259-8236, jgarrison@tennesseancom and on Twitter @Joeygarrison.
Read or Share this story: https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/2018/03/01/nashville-mayor-megan-barry-scandal-memphis-investigation/385560002/