Tab so far for lawyers in school construction lawsuit: $37 million

Hey, wait a minute! Isn’t $37 million just about the amount of the ‘shortfall’ in the budget that caused the firing of Marcus Turk? Could it be… the attorney’s fees cannot be paid with SPLOST money so they come from the general budget. That is something we’ve been crying out about for quite some time. We have asked and asked for an accounting and transparency in the monthly budget regarding attorney’s fees. These fees have never added up in the documents accessible to the public. The only winners in this situation are named “King” and “Spalding”.

From today’s AJC article:

District Attorney to ask judges to consider convening a grand jury to investigate the school board

By Ty Tagami

The cost to taxpayers of a 5-year-old legal dispute between the DeKalb County School District and a construction management company has risen to $37 million, according to new court records.

A grand jury highlighted those numbers and other issues in criticizing the school board — and reiterating a call by a preceding grand jury for a broad investigation. The grand jury, like another in December, asked District Attorney Robert James to convene a special grand jury to investigate the board’s activities, and James said he would ask the superior court judges to consider it.

The legal bills come from a lawsuit with former construction manager Heery/Mitchell. DeKalb fired Heery/Mitchell in February 2007, complaining that the company, which oversaw $1 billion in sales tax funded school construction, had problems with costs and delays.

Heery/Mitchell sued later that month for $1.5 million in unpaid invoices and damages. DeKalb countersued, claiming the company mismanaged more than $100 million and defrauded the district.

DeKalb has paid law firm King & Spalding $18 million for its work on the case, and owes the firm another $19 million, according to a summary of a discussion Monday between the nine members of the school board and the DeKalb grand jury

Read on (if you can stand to):

Tab so far for lawyers in school construction lawsuit: $37 million

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25 Responses to Tab so far for lawyers in school construction lawsuit: $37 million

  1. Spouse-of-Educator says:

    Another lawsuit – Dekalb Board not paying into retirement plan for it’s teachers. Should be up in the courts real soon. 26 plus millions of dollars and growing.

  2. Anonymous says:

    This insightful comment is from DSW1 about understanding legal fees for government entities,

  3. We have reported and reported and reported on this, only to be called “hostile” or worse. Seems we were right, sadly. Below is a partial listing of our former blog posts on the subject. This is the biggest, ugliest, messiest mess. And we have yet to see a plan to emerge from it, or worse, an admittance that the problems exist!

    Heck, we even tried to make our point by creating a petition to resolve the case and showing the board that the public wants OUT – only to be met with hostility and deaf ears.

  4. And here’s an old post by Kim, worth reprinting in its entirety:

    Racketeering: The Crime that Keeps on Giving …

    We have often complained loudly about and marveled at the amount of money DCSS spends in legal cases. Now that the indictments are in (will there be more?), at least we taxpayers can rest easy that our tax dollars will be safe from lawyer fees defending Lewis and Pope/Reid, right? Not so fast …

    Unfortunately, even though the criminal charges do leave the targets of the indictments to fend for themselves in terms of paying for defense fees, the prosecution itself doesn’t come free! I am afraid we need to brace ourselves for a very expensive and drawn out case. And who will pay? Why the same taxpayers that were paying to protect the suspects during the investigation.

    To add to the drama of this case, how is this for a turn-your-stomach twist: after suspects grab millions in tax dollars for themselves, and after the tax payers pay bags of money to defend the offenders, and after paying even bigger bags of money prosecuting the offenders, there is an acquittal.

    I’m not predicting this outcome I’m just sharing my worst nightmare as a taxpayer inspired by this reading on today:

    Lawyers in GA School Racketeering Case Reflect High Stakes

    Talk about delayed gratification, not only may we have to wait a long, long time to have a chance at justice. We have to spend a lot of money through the DA’s office to get this case brought to closure.

    If this drags out as long as it very likely could, how will this affect the current interim administration and the recruitment efforts for a new superintendent? Oh! If only we could see swift justice this time around. I’m planning on the opposite and you should, too. The cloud of this thing is going to hang around for awhile …

    Going forward, how much am I willing to pay for prevention of future such schemes? Looking at the downside risk we’re seeing now, there are a whole lot of zeros behind the number I would support for proper oversight, control, and audit of DCSS.

  5. And for your further consideration, here’s one by Libertarian David Montané pondering, ‘what if we had no SPLOST?’

  6. justwatch says:

    On the AJC Get Schooled blog, Jim Redovian has a good comment about the length of time this thing has been tied up in court and he reference the fact that it isn’t DCSS that is doing the delaying. Why is Seelinger allowing this to drag out? If he believes DCSS will ultimately lose, then let us lose and be done with it?

    Has anyone ever checked out his campaign contributions?

  7. dekalbschoolwatch says:

    Very good comment from the AJC blog. Pause and think about it.

    May 4th, 2012
    1:35 pm

    I want to preface this comment with the admission that I live in Florida, so this exact issue isn’t a ‘local’ one for me. That being said, I am an academic & enjoy following news stories from all over. I’ve been reading this blog for over a year now & it has been very good at giving me the ’story’ behind the story on many different subjects. Straight news is so often too sterile in conveying reality. It’s an inherent limitation to the medium. Blogs do a great job of filling in the picture.

    I’m also the son of a 3rd grade teacher that just retired last month after 33 years in the profession. We should get some form of compensation or therapy coverage for just having to listen to the front-line soldiers retell their battlefield tales for such a long period of service. My mom is a hero. I have immense respect & pride for great teachers like her. Every day I came away from a day in her classroom, I was left saying and feeling “Wow! I couldn’t do that. Thank god some people can.”

    Here is my greatest fear. For all of us. There appears to be this self-fulfilling prophesy to so many of these stories. This inevitability. This eerie commonality. I haven’t lived in Dekalb County or Fulton County, but the themes resonate with such a familiarity. They do so from reading the news out of Detroit, Memphis, Charlotte, Houston, Philadelphia, Chicago, Jacksonville & on & on & on. There is this predictable trajectory. “You can see it coming, but you can’t stop it” kind of thing.

    Large groups of citizens, who despite having good intentions(I know some may not), do not possess the education/intelligence/skill-sets/etc that make for being good voters. That’s a HUGE problem. We often end up with individuals in positions of influence & power that are just not qualified for those jobs. They walk through the door and cronyism, incompetence, criminality, apathy, etc come pouring in behind them. It takes root. It festers. It chokes out the positive that exists and creates a barrier to it returning. The systems begin to falter, then fail. Good people lose faith. They realize that despite their best intentions, they cannot persevere against the new normal. People with options, with motivation, with a desire for better lives begin to leave. They aren’t quitters so much as they are unwilling to become martyrs. With them leaves the resources that higher achievement brings to its surroundings. Not only does the dysfunction remain, but the local systems now in decline create more of it as things begin to unravel. Failure begets more failure.

    Education is the cornerstone of a successful, enlightened civilization. It’s akin to saying that if a child can’t read, how can he/she study math, science, humanities, etc.. If we break our democracy through allowing its foundation(informed voters) to erode, we are going to lose so very much.

    Mom was an awesome teacher for over 30 years. It breaks my heart to hear her tell some young person that they should be very cautious when considering a career in public K-12 education. Her warning is chilling in its familiarity to so much of what I read elsewhere. “It’s a very noble calling. It’s incredibly rewarding to have a positive influence on a young person’s life. It’s hard work, but so many great things are that are worth doing. However, something happened & the system has broken down. In far too many cases it’s not about the kids anymore and you’ll be fighting that fight every single day.”

  8. Atlanta Media Guy says:

    I’m stunned how so many seem surprised. Good grief like the links above prove, this blog has been talking about this for years. Who can forget the Walker comment, “I see color, when making decisions…”(This was during the discussion about the color of a law partner of a certain law firm. Jester has always been asking Turk for figures, it was only last summer when Turk added the attorney fee budget line to the handout the BOE receives.

    How long are these Grand Jury investigations, trials going to take? How much more money will DCSS be throwing at attorneys?

  9. Did I really read that Walker said the Board has a verbal fee agreement with K&S!?!?!?! Does Walker just not know what he’s talking about? Aren’t these kind of agreements supposed to be written down? Ahh…but there would then be a paper trail! I don’t believe that either side could be that stupid. That quote by Walker makes no sense to me.

  10. dekalbschoolwatch says:

    I have to dig. I swear that there was a written agreement. And not a good one. It was negotiated by Josie Alexander for the school system. Walker surely should know this. Sometimes these guys just throw answers out into the air because they are incapable of being prepared.

  11. Dekalbite says:

    @ DeKalb Watch

    This is what taxpayers paid Ms. Josie Alexander the last two years:

    2010 Payments – ALEXANDER & ASSOCIATES $1,280,759
    2011 Payments – ALEXANDER & ASSOCIATES $151,861
    2011 Payments – ALEXANDER & ASSOCIATES $1,095,796
    Total for the last two years – $2,528,416

    Quite a tidy sum.

    Click on other Expenditure Information (click here). Select Payments. Choose Fiscal Year. Local Boards of Education. Organization – DeKalb Board of Education. funding Source – ALL.

  12. anon says:

    I understand that Josie Alexander is related to one of the “higher ups” or “connected ones” on the former BOE (I’m not remembering who at the moment) and that there is overlap of what her firm does in litigation being re-done by others and no one is watching to see that taxpayers are paying twice for the same services…. (in house counsel at corporations watch for this….).

  13. justwatch says:

    Next week, Walker will negotiate a written contract with K and S, giving SACs something else to pat them on the back for.

    Makes me crazy.


    Walker said that they had a verbal agreement (at best) to RE-NEGOTIATE the contingency agreement once they won the case. This would obviously not make sense and would not be something K&S was required to do.

  15. justwatch says:

    I suspect that K and S wants no more of this bad publicity. Expect a written agreement in the next few days that may even include a fee cut. Walker will be the hero (sarcasm here, folks)

  16. Fred in DeKalb says:

    This is a serious allegation you are making. Is there any proof to back this up. Otherwise you could be teetering on libel.

  17. anothercomment says:

    Here is the biggest Fiasco, is that King and Spaulding does not specialize in Construction Law. If they were going to pay that much they should have hired someone that specialized in Constrution Law like Smith, Curry,… Or is Heery using them.

    I would fully suspect that the suspicious time sheets were on Mitchel’s end, not Heery’s. Heery has some major Corp of Engineer contracts and would not risk some of these things. I believe what we have are a case of Pat Reid trying to cover her and her minority contractor pals footsteps. Who ever were involved in the fraud.

  18. anothercomment says:

    Dekalb County will have no choice but having to settle this lawsuit with Heery. Dekalb’s folks that were over their construction program have been indicted by 2 Grand Juries. Any attorney that is not advising DCSS to settle this suit, and did not advise them the minute Pope et, al . were indicted, is not representing the interests of their clients, but padding the bill. Any one who has ever taken a Construction Law or Business Law class knows this is a loosing case for Dekalb. They should have settled for the $380K. It was that simple.

  19. justwatch says:

    Fred, I believe that the people in the trenches, for the most part, are doing a yoman’s job in our schools, especially given the system’s struggles.

    I think our school board has not done a good job, setting policy, budgeting, even redistricting the schools last year. While I like Atkinson, the hiring of the superintendent was a fiasco. Tell me what you think our Board of Ed is dong well? (not our schools, again see my comment above)

  20. Fred in DeKalb says:

    I’m sure there are some “doves” on the Board that wanted to settle while the ‘hawks” wanted to proceed. We don’t know the specifics of the evidence the school system has against HM. We can assume the advice given by internal counsel is that this is a winnable lawsuit for the school system. From early reports, the basis on the lawsuit goes back to events that happened prior to Pope coming aboard.

    These are assumptions based on where we are today.

  21. justwatch says:

    My board members have told me that the advice to proceed is from K and S. That K and S tells them it is a winnable lawsuit.

    DCSS hasn’t had internal counsel, really, until Ramsey was given that role (yuck) a few weeks ago. Most school systems don’t have an internal counsel and thus are likely to get taken advantage of by outside law firms.

  22. Anyone who wants to take the time to read the SPLOST II Forensic Audit can find it in our FILES under the Facts & Sources tab above. It pretty much says that everyone involved in SPLOST II was somehow incompetent. Both sides. We had Stan Pritchett, a former principal and administrator on our team who was deemed to have been terrible at managing construction. Then of course, we now know that Pat Pope was a consultant to DCSS SPLOST II construction before she was hired (after a “national” search) in an “emergency” by Dr. Lewis and the board. Then, Heery Mitchell was fired.

  23. Fred in DeKalb says:

    Just to clarify, when I said internal counsel, I meant K and S. They are contracted by the school system to be their legal representatives. I wanted to distinguish that from in house counsel, someone on staff.

    My opinion is the school system has gone too far to halt the lawsuit now. It would truly be a waste of money and time if they did so. Everyone should take note of the comments made by Jim Redovian. HM has more to lose because losing this lawsuit would exclude them from other government contracts. They have motivation to delay this lawsuit.

    If the school system in conjunction with their legal representative believes they have sufficient evidence to prove that HM owes this county over $100 million dollars, I want them to proceed. The judge needs to step in and set a date so this case can proceed. Let the chips fall where they may.

  24. Freda says:

    Who REALLY has motivation to continue this gravy train? Their initials are K&S. They are the only ones truly benefiting. $37 million and counting. Plain and simple.

  25. awcodger says:

    The public wants out but not as badly as the current Board does. If ;you want to investigate, check on how to get the lawyers to stop delaying and how to get the DA to handle criminal cases in a way that lets this one and its thousands of pages of evidence get to a conclusion.

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