Conflict still surrounds MCSD legal counsel - WRBL

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Conflict still surrounds MCSD legal counsel

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A local citizen is accusing the Muscogee County school district of over-paying for legal services, compared to other districts in Georgia. But Interim Superintendent Dr. John Phillips is standing by his claim that using an outside law firm is the best, most cost-effective option.

Looking at the numbers, MCSD does spend more on legal services compared to 15 other districts in the state. In fiscal year 2012, it spent more than 702-thousand dollars compared to about 67-thousand dollars in Houston County. On average, Muscogee spends around 20-dollars per student for legal costs. In Hall County, it's only $3.42 per student.

But Dr. Phillips said the information doesn't paint an accurate depiction. "You can't just say, and divide it with the number of kids and the legal fees... again; it's a very complicated thing." He said the fees cover everything from employee claims to special needs student lawsuits and even the Chattahoochee Valley library system's legal fees.

The school district pays partners $165 hour to law firm Hatcher, Stubbs, and Attorneys at Law.

An associate fee is $115 an hour. Dr. Phillips said that is a bargain compared to market rates.

"If you're going to do a true analysis, then you have to look at every case in that school district and what the case is about. What kind of time would have to be exhausted to defend that case?" Phillips explained.

But local attorney Frank Myers disagreed. "Dr Phillips seems to think Muscogee County is somewhat... has...different problems than other school districts around the state and that's just not so."

Myers believes dividing legal expenses by the number of students is an appropriate measurement because the student body sizes are in the same ballpark as Muscogee County. He said in-house counsel can provide the same quality representation for the district.

"Kids are going without the supplies they need while lawyers are being paid twice what they deserve to be paid," he said.

But Dr. Phillips said it takes a specialized lawyer to deal with school law and those lawyers are very hard to find. "If it was something prudent and something effective you'd see more school districts doing it. There are only two school districts that have in house attorneys."

Those two counties that have in-house legal counsel are Rockdale County and Atlanta Public City Schools.

School Board Member Cathy Williams, the former board chair, said she is doing her own research before taking a stance on whether the district should move to in-house counsel.

Sydney Cameron

Sydney joined the WRBL news team in December 2011 after working as a freelance reporter in Washington, D.C. More>>

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