Little Rock Airport Commission’s contract with law firm in limbo as officials warn of possible Turo conflict

A proposed legal-services agreement between the Little Rock airport and the law firm Wright, Lindsey & Jennings remains in limbo amid a possible conflict related to Turo, a car-sharing company that also happens to be one of the law firm’s clients.

Authorities at Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport/Adams Field have an existing legal-services contract with the law firm Cross, Gunter, Witherspoon & Galchus.

The firm has served as general counsel to the airport since 2007, and expenses associated with its services were roughly $155,000 last year, according to Little Rock Airport Commission meeting minutes from July.

A request for qualifications for firms seeking to become the airport’s general counsel was issued earlier this year and eventually led commissioners to decide to retain its current law firm as well as the firm of Wright, Lindsey & Jennings. Officials to develop two separate contracts, each for an initial three-year period, with one possible three-year extension, according to meeting minutes.

In August, airport commissioners in a 4-3 decision opted to have Cross, Gunter, Witherspoon & Galchus serve as general counsel and be responsible for a series of items that included taxis, shuttles, rideshare services and off-site rental car operations.

Wright, Lindsey & Jennings was assigned a shorter set of items, including personnel issues and employment-related laws and regulations, according to commission documents.

Complicated the dual approach to legal services is the fact that airport officials are currently in negotiations with Turo — a corporate client of Wright, Lindsey & Jennings.

At a meeting of the Little Rock Airport Commission on Tuesday, Bryan Malinowski, the executive director of the airport, told commissioners that the agreement with Cross, Gunter, Witherspoon & Galchus has been signed.

Officials have negotiated and finalized an agreement with Wright, Lindsey & Jennings, he said. However, Malinowski has asked the firm “to hold off on signing it.” Officials were ironing out an issue with Turo, he said.

The airport has an agreement in front of Turo to sign, and Wright, Lindsey & Jennings represented Turo in the past, Malinowski said, calling it “somewhat of a built-in conflict.”

If the Turo agreement can be signed in the next one to four weeks, Malinowski said he will sign the agreement with Wright, Lindsey & Jennings immediately.

Jane A. Kim, a Wright, Lindsey & Jennings attorney, told commissioners Tuesday that while her firm represents Turo, the firm doesn’t see a conflict right now because it’s not in the context of litigation. (At one point, Kim acknowledged in response to a commissioner’s question that the firm’s work for Turo was “largely lobbying.”)

Malinowski suggested in response that once the Arkansas Legislature convenes in regular session in January, a conflict could start to emerge.

Likewise, Shane Carter, the airport’s director of public affairs and governmental relations, told commissioners that when lawmakers were in session last year, Wright, Lindsey & Jennings was on the opposing side handling governmental affairs, “and we’re very concerned moving forward if they continue to be in the role with Turo.”

Carter added, “We don’t feel that’s appropriate and I don’t believe it’s appropriate under the standards that attorneys follow — professional standards.”

Later in the meeting, Carter noted that he and other airport officials were made aware of Wright, Lindsey & Jennings’ work on behalf of Turo through the airport’s lobbyist.

He said lobbying work largely happened before a legislative session began and argued that more transparency was needed in light of the airport’s history with Turo.

“How can we move forward and build a relationship on trust if we do not know where our new attorney sits with an opposing client?” — or at least a client with whom the airport has not reached an agreement — Carter asked.

After some further discussion, commissioners indicated they had no objections to Malinowski’s suggestion that the airport continued negotiating with Turo with the goal of reaching an agreement, and then signing an agreement with Wright, Lindsey & Jennings.

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