Legal bills begin to mount

Follow the AJC's complete coverage of the Braves move at and read Sunday's story about how the stadium deal's costs are rising from what officialls pledged to taxpayers last fall.

One team that is certain to do well at the Atlanta Braves new stadium, long before the first pitch is ever thrown, is the group of lawyers assembled by Cobb County to put the deal together.

Cobb has enlisted four law firms to assist on a range of legal issues related to the ballpark, including research on “open container laws” that govern the consumption of alcohol outdoors, according to invoices obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution through Georgia’s Open Records Act.

The Braves plan to build a private, mixed-use development adjacent to the stadium that will include bars and restaurants that will sell beer, wine and spirits. It is unclear from documents released by the county if the legal research is in relation to the stadium, the private development, or both. The Braves declined to comment.

The four firms have collectively billed the county about $47,000 so far. But there’s a lot more to come.

The largest single bill so far comes from Thompson Hine, a national firm with offices in New York, Washington, D.C., Atlanta and several cities in Ohio. The firm has already billed $35,000 for its “discovery phase” of work from Feb. 1 through April 15, during which the attorneys worked to “familiarize” themselves with the project. The firm is the county’s lead negotiator in several agreements that must be finalized with the Braves before construction on the stadium can begin.

Thompson Hine has told Cobb it will soon provide a “comprehensive and itemized proposal for legal services” for the Braves negotiations. That document had not been given to the county as of last week, according to spokesman Robert Quigley.

“They’re experts at what they do,” Quigley said. “It’s important to have in place the expertise that we don’t possess internally to work on a project like this.”

The negotiations between Cobb and the Braves have thus far been conducted outside of public view, and there’s been little information provided to residents or fans. The legal bills provide a first glimpse into some the issues the county is working through.

Cobb Commissioner Bob Ott met with the Thompson Hine attorneys last week and said he walked away impressed. The firm’s website says construction projects are one of its specialities. They’ve been involved in a number of stadium projects for pro teams including the Florida Marlins, Minnesota Twins, Orlando Magic and Pittsburgh Penguins.

“I’m pleased with where negotiations are and pleased with their understanding of the county’s needs,” Ott said. “I think they’ll be a great asset.”

The Marietta law firm Bentley Bentley & Bentley has been billing for work on the alcohol-related issues. The firm charged $411 for four hours of work on that subject. The invoice says it performed “work on timeline for alcohol issues;” did “legal research regarding nation-wide open container laws;” and researched the “San Diego stadium law.”

Overall, the the Bentley firm has billed for $2,900 for work performed in January and February. It also researched laws related to stadium construction in other cities and put together a timeline for the completion of stadium building codes in Cobb County.

The firm Seyfarth Shaw, an international firm with offices in Atlanta, helped the county last fall with the preliminary agreement with the Braves. That firm’s work also included helping the county create a special taxing district crucial to the stadium funding. It has billed $7,200 thus far. On a billing sheet provided to Cobb the firm quoted rates up to $585 an a hour.

It’s unclear exactly how much Cobb will ultimately spend for outside legal work related to the stadium. In Atlanta, the Georgia World Congress Center Authority budgeted $2.5 million for legal and consulting work for a downtown stadium for the Falcons. Other local governments around the country have spent millions on the legal issues surrounding stadium construction.