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School Board paid lawyers $30,000

School Board paid lawyers $30,000

The King George School Board paid lawyers more than $30,794 in the last year.
The School Board’s legal fees went to three law firms, the bulk of them concerning Special Education matters.

Those were coded to be paid from Legal Services line items in the Instruction category, under the Special Education department’s Office of the Supervisor, Pat Nealon.

The timeframe spans portions of two fiscal years, from Nov. 29, 2010 to Oct. 21,

2011, according to the bills supplied by Superintendent Candace Brown last week at our request.

The bills include a portion of 2010-11, which ended on June 30. They also include the first four months of the current fiscal year, 2011-12, which began on July 1.
In both fiscal years, that legal services budget line item was set at $4,000, as approved by the School Board. In both years it has been exceeded.

That means money was transferred from some other line in Instruction in the Special Education budget, instead of being spent on services for children with special needs.

BILLS HEAVILY REDACTED
As we do from time to time, we recently asked for copies of the School Board’s legal bills. The request was for bills starting in January 2011, when it came to light that the division was out of compliance in eight areas with federal regulations regarding provision of special education services to eligible students with disabilities.

Fifty-five pages of heavily-redacted copies of legal bills totaling $30,794 were provided last week by Brown from three separate law firms with 80 percent of it blacked out, as she notes in her cover memo accompanying the copies.

The bills look like copies of a classified CIA memo. Brown even redacted punctuation.
The arbitrariness of Brown’s redactions is likewise a cause for concern.

CITES ATTORNEY-CLIENT PRIVILEGE FOR LEGAL BILLS
Brown referenced a legal exemption in her cover memo claiming the blacked out portions of the bills were withheld because, “They are attorney-client privileged and constitute attorney work product.”

This is not the first time Brown has provided copies of legal bills. But it is the first time that she has blacked out more than the names of parent or student, which is proper and legal to do.

In fact, we already had copies of a few of the same recently-supplied bills that we got months ago from Brown – without redactions.

Those bills were a topic of a published newspaper submission last January. The bills we received last week are posted online <journalpress.com>. So are a couple of the same bills without portions blacked out.  

SERIES ON BOBBY BY DAVIS
Regular readers will recall a series of articles The Journal published about a student named Bobby submitted by King George resident Linda Davis beginning last fall through early this calendar year.

Davis was a long-time coach for the King George Little League Challengers and is coordinator for King George Special Olympics.

She chronicled her progress, and lack of it, in assisting Bobby’s mother in navigating the county school division’s special education system while trying to get an appropriate public education for him.

Her submission in our Jan. 18, 2011 issue was entitled, “What the King George Schools Administration is Doing to Help.” (The article can be accessed online at our website, <journalpress.com>; find the search feature on the left-side column and enter “Bobby update” to get to a page where you can scroll down and read it.)
Davis recounted how last fall legal bills revealed the division was paying lawyers for reading her articles in The Journal. The lawyers, mostly from Reed Smith, LLP, were also dealing with other inquiries by Nealon, and a division IEP specialist, Katie Feltner, about problems with Bobby’s individual education plan (IEP).

SAMPLE REDACTION
The first bill in the grouping posted online has an invoice date of Dec. 31, 2010, for billable hours from the preceding time frame.

Looking at that bill’s second listing charged for an hour of lawyer Patrick T. Andriano’s time on Dec. 1, 2010 indicates a 10-line summation of the following in Brown’s redacted version:
“Office conferences - - - telephone conference - - - review - - - office conference - - - draft - - -“

The redacted version can be seen HERE.  The uncensored version is HERE.

The actual billing notation reads, “Office conferences with Ms. Mehfoud re issues in the newspaper article; telephone conference with Dr. Nealon re same; review of email from Ms. Feltner re an email from the parent’s advocate and draft response; office conference with Ms. Mehfoud re the IEP meeting; draft email to Ms. Feltner re same” Mehfoud refers to Kathleen S. Mehfoud, another lawyer in the firm of Reed Smith.
The billings but don’t meet the standard for exemption under FOIA.

LEGAL FEES FOR 2010-11
Altogether, the bills we obtained both recently and previously don’t cover all of 2010-11, but we have a portion starting in the end of August 2010, so the total could be more.

The bills in our possession indicate that only a little under $500 was paid from budget lines for the School Board or the Superintendent in 2010-11, with the rest, totaling $20,279, going mostly for emails, phone calls and advice for Nealon and Feltner. We can’t yet be sure about other services the lawyers supplied because of Brown’s liberal use of her Sharpie pen.

LEGAL FEES FOR 2011-12, SO FAR
The bills for the current fiscal year include those for the first four months of 2011-12, which began on July 1.

They so far total $12,407 charged to the Special Education department’s Instruction category for legal services, which has a budget of $4,000 for the current fiscal year.

FOIA VIOLATION?
The Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requires that if requested public records are partly withheld, the person providing the records must, “identify with reasonable particularity the subject matter of withheld portions, and cite, as to each category of withheld records, the specific Code section that authorizes the withholding of the records. When a portion of a requested record is withheld, the public body may delete or excise only that portion of the record to which an exemption applies and shall release the remainder of the record.”

BROWN, PAULSEN, PARDEE & PARKER GOING
Brown is retiring at the end of this month after 10 years as superintendent for the King George school division. There’s only one more regular School Board meeting, on Monday, Dec. 12. Brown and three members of the School Board who declined to run for reelection are leaving office at the end of the month.

Dennis Paulsen, Renee Parker and Lynn Pardee did not run for re-election to the School Board. Renee Parker who ran against Joe Grzeika for the Board of Supervisors but was defeated.

A new School Board will be welcomed on Jan. 3 to include John Davis, Ken Novell, and Kristin Tolliver to join current members Rick Randall and Mike Rose.

To see the redacted version mentioned above, press HERE

To see the uncensored version press HERE.

 

Phyllis Cook

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