A spokesman for Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf defended reforms to the state's method for selecting bond counsel Monday, in response to reports that state lawyers pushed the University of Pennsylvania Health System to hire three more law firms than it initially sought for a $400 million financing effort.

The health system wished to hire Ballard Spahr LLP as its bond counsel for a borrowing effort through the Pennsylvania Higher Educational Facilities Authority aimed at several building projects, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Ballard Spahr has a long-standing relationship with the university; the firm's website says that it has served as its bond counsel for "decades."

But a document issued by the state's Office of General Counsel revealed that not just Ballard Spahr but also Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel LLP had been recommended to advise the PHEFA and the university on the project. That document also showed that Obermayer would be sharing 40 percent of the value of its contract with minority-owned firm Ahmad Zaffarese LLC. A source close to the matter confirmed that Ballard Spahr would be using another minority-owned firm, Turner Law PC, as a subcontractor.

Jeffrey Sheridan, Wolf’s press secretary, said in an email that the evaluation process for selecting the bond counsel, which involved a board staffed by the University of Pennsylvania and the PHEFA, had decreased the university's costs by 30 percent, or $100,000. Sheridan added that the process was in line with the governor's efforts to change the way the state hires outside attorneys. He explained that these reforms were motivated by the desire to make the process more open and inclusive, increase participation by small and diverse firms, as well as to save money. Wolf said that he would ban no-bid contracts for outside legal work shortly after he was elected in November, and signed an executive order altering the contracting process on the day he was inaugurated.

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