August Wilson Center conservator bill questioned

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Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane is objecting to a $50,050 bill that was submitted by the conservator for the August Wilson Center for African American Culture relating to work to save the struggling venue.

In an Allegheny County Common Pleas Orphans' Court filing, attorneys for Ms. Kane argued that redacted material and lack of detail in the itemized statement submitted by Judith Fitzgerald, former U.S. bankruptcy judge, as part of her bill prevented them from conducting a "meaningful review" of the expenses.

Joe Peters, Ms. Kane's spokesman, said the fees may all be reasonable but it's hard to be sure without more information. "We have an obligation to know since the fees ultimately will be paid out of the charitable assets," he said.

In a petition filed Feb. 11, Ms. Fitzgerald requested a $50,050 payment for work performed in her role as conservator between her Nov. 18 appointment by Orphans' Court Judge Lawrence O'Toole and Dec. 31. The payment represents 143 hours of work on behalf of the August Wilson Center at a $350 hourly rate.

Her bill was one of three submitted in the past two weeks related to work involving the center, which is facing liquidation to pay off a $7 million mortgage and other debts.

The Meridian Group, a Downtown financial consultant hired to help Ms. Fitzgerald, requested a $51,481 payment representing 201.47 hours of work and expenses, while Tucker Arensberg, counsel to Ms. Fitzgerald, submitted a bill for $65,696 for 267.1 hours of work and expenses.

The three bills total slightly more than $167,000.

The only one that Ms. Kane has objected to thus far is Ms. Fitzgerald's.

In a response filed with the court, Ms. Fitzgerald said the objections lacked merit and should be denied. She stated that the redacted portions of her itemized statement were made for the sole purpose of protecting attorney-client privilege or confidential information, including the names of parties interested in buying the center.

"The cases cited by the AG are simply inapplicable to this situation, and the receiver should not be forced to waive her attorney-client privilege so that the AG can micromanage, retroactively, the actions of the receiver or her professionals," she wrote.

Ms. Fitzgerald said she would be glad to share the redacted portions of her bill with the court in private.

In her petition for payment, Ms. Fitzgerald said the amount billed did not include work she performed before Nov. 18. Nor, she said, did she seek payment for "many activities" she performed as a public service as well as tasks such as discussions with community members about the center and preparations for a Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration.

Dollar Bank, which is seeking to foreclose on the center, has advanced $25,000 to help pay the conservator, Meridian, and Tucker Arensberg.

If additional money isn't available to pay for their services, charges or liens can be placed against the center's assets.

Ms. Fitzgerald's itemized statement filed with the court details meetings, emails or phone calls with a host of stakeholders, including county Executive Rich Fitzgerald; Buhl Foundation president Frederick Thieman and other local foundations; August Wilson Center founding members; the Allegheny Regional Asset District; Kevin McMahon, Pittsburgh Cultural Trust CEO and president; and the CBRE real estate firm.

Mark Belko: or 412-263-1262.

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