Legal Opinions: Not Getting What You Pay For

The district is spending a substantial and growing amount of money on legal fees for advice and litigation services. Last year when I questioned the district on its failure to hold a public hearing on the receipt of unanticipated funds from our health insurance provider, LGC HealthTrust, Dr. Metzler sought a legal opinion on my statements.  He did this without a vote of the board and completely without my knowledge (though I would have invited it).

Only when Mr. Bealo made a statement on my blog about the lawyer’s opinion on this issue did I learn there was a legal opinion.  I then made repeated attempts to obtain an appointment at the SAU to read this letter.  I was never given an appointment or offered any way at all to read this letter. The SAU keeps a “Read Only” file available to school board members who must read the file in front of a babysitter at the SAU to be sure a letter is not copied or any notes taken.

Think about this.  Taxpayer dollars were used to obtain legal opinions that were kept secret from your elected representative. Even the existence of the legal opinion was withheld and disclosed selectively. This opinion was also being kept secret from you, the entity that paid for the opinion in the first place and whose interests are ultimately at stake. How many more opinions of this secret nature are in existence at the SAU office?  I’m willing to wager that there are quite a lot of them – like the interpretation of Sandown Central funding warrants. There is no defensible reason for keeping secret opinions on interpretations of the law dealing with public issues.

Back on the example of last year’s LGC HealthTrust return of surplus, the legal letter in question was eventually released to me and the public when it was read by Mrs. Steenson at the July 16 school board meeting last summer. During this meeting Dr. Metzler explained the secrecy of legal opinions by saying the client privilege was between him and the lawyers and not with the board so therefore the board could see the letters at his discretion. [Clips of the argument over legal letters from this meeting are below.]

By the way, once the district’s lawyer’s letter became public, it ultimately supported my argument that a public hearing should have been held to accept the funds.  Funds were expended to pay the teachers’ portion of the LGC refund of surplus. And Mr. Stokinger never returned my request after the meeting to give a full and detailed accounting of the LGC money despite his statement that he would do so.

Both Timberlane and the SAU have too much money sloshing around to transfer to their legal services budget. You think you are funding legal services to protect the district, but in some cases you are actually funding legal services that are being used against your interests. Knowledge is power. You should not be paying for something you don’t get.

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