$130,000 Legal Bill

Today, I finally received word from the judge that he would not order the county to pay the legal fees for the 5 school board members who fought against the merger. Total Bill: 130K. That would place the bill at ~$26,000 per member.

The question of the day has been: Why would you be crazy enough to enter that fight and place your financial viability on the line and then ask the Shelby County taxpayers to pick up the tab? Great question with an easily explainable answer.

The outside counsel of Shelby County schools who filed the original complaint asking for a declaratory judgement on how the districts would be merged informed the board members at the time that a litigation strategy that involved both the legal entity known as the board of education could be strengthened by individual claims of property rights in seats. At the time, the county commission was moving forward with declaring our seats vacant, which we felt was illegal. Our entry into the fight would also create another party to help dictate and drive an outcome as part of the consent decree. So the reality is that this litigation was part of a multi-pronged strategy to preserve suburban board voices during the merger process.

As the case went on, the 5 of us had significant input into the judge’s consent decree that was created. Things like the 23 member board, etc were part of what we helped to craft. As parties to the lawsuit, we helped to make sure that Public Chapter 1 (Norris-Todd) ruled the day and that municipalities would have the ability to have their own districts.

So the gamble paid off although formally we did not prove that we prevailed(per the judge), we won by giving our constituencies a voice at the judges table. That cost the 5 of us collectively 130K to make sure it happened.

I believed that since this was part of the original strategy to make sure Public Chapter One ruled the day and suburban voices were preserved, that the offending party (the county commission) should be responsible for picking up the tab. Also, Scott Bennett was a far more effective attorney at the judge’s table then the outside firm brought in by SCS. The reality is that our private attorney drove much of the outcome. Again, a good reason for the funding to be provided by the county. 

So the next question is: Where will you as a group come up with 130K and how will you individually come up with 26K? The answer to the question for me is simple. I don’t have 26K to pay the bill at this point but it will get paid. If that is via fundraiser, cutting grass, or bagging groceries, i am a firm believer that if you make the commitment then you pay it.

I remember when first faced with this decision looking at my wife and saying, I can’t do it and place our family at risk. But after praying and reflection, the answer to me was that “if not you, then who will do it for them?” I just trusted God that his provision on the other side of this case would prevail. It just looks like it will not come from the county.

All of that said, I am glad that this is behind me. But it left a $26,000 scar. However, my people and their children were worth  it…

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