Tuesday, April 03, 2012

CIRM Budget Moves Forward Despite Objections About Legal Costs

SAN FRANCISCO – A proposed $17.9 million operational budget for the California stem cell agency has cleared a key hurdle despite objections concerning the addition of another attorney to its $2.4 million annual legal effort.

The spending plan was approved yesterday by the CIRM directors' Finance Subcommittee on an 8-0 vote. The proposal is 7.2 percent higher than spending for the current fiscal year, which ends in June. The agency by law operates with a stringent budget cap of 6 percent of its bond funding.

Most of the budget goes for salaries at the agency, which has slightly more than 50 employees. The agency spends $8.4 million annually administering its 400-plus grants and developing new grant programs.

The proposal to add another lawyer to its staff drew fire from CIRM Co-vice chairman Art Torres. He asked why the agency wanted to spend more money for "a lawyer we don't need."

CIRM President Alan Trounson and CIRM General Counsel Elona Baum defended the plan, saying another lawyer was needed to deal with intellectual property and research commercialization issues. They said that grantee institutions and businesses are not dealing with the legal ramifications in a satisfactory manner.

Trounson said the agency would be "at risk" if it did not have control of the legal issues.

Torres brought up a memo on the subject, which he said did not justify the addition of a lawyer. Other directors said they had not seen the memo and asked for copies. The California Stem Cell Report has also asked for a copy.

Michael Goldberg, a venture capitalist and chair of the Finance Subcommittee, asked CIRM staff and a handful of directors to resolve the matter between now and the end of May, when the budget is expected to be approved by the full board.

Currently CIRM has five attorneys on staff, not including directors who are lawyers. The budget for the internal legal operation is $1.3 million annually. The rest of the $2.4 million goes for contracted services, including the firm of Remcho, Johansen & Purcell of San Leandro, Ca., a highly regarded political and governmentally oriented law firm that is budgeted for as much as $650,000 for the coming year, down from $695,000 this year. Another attorney is also on contract for $250,000, down from $325,000 this year.

CIRM budget documents projected savings in $190,000 in legal costs from the current year that could be used to help hire another attorney. The total legal costs for next year are budgeted at $2.44 million, compared to $2.39 million for the current year.

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