Trustee John Dexter

Twin Rivers Unified School District still facing big legal fees

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2012 - 7:50 am

Trustees who ran campaigns calling for an end to exorbitant legal fees in the Twin Rivers Unified School District have faced two bills totaling $1.3 million in the past two months.

Those payments, split in two billing cycles in July and June, were made to the district's outside legal counsel Timothy M. Cary and Associates despite school board members saying they aren't entirely sure what the bills cover.

June's bill for $782,000 was approved by the board last month, while July's $553,000 bill had not been voted on as of late Tuesday.

Several board members have expressed frustration with the limited information they have received about the legal fees, which are paid before going to board members for ratification.

"It's baloney," Trustee John Dexter said before Tuesday's school district board meeting. "When the bills are up, how can we ratify millions of dollars without any knowledge?"

During the meeting, trustees received a list with the general reason for each bill included in July's $553,000 payment, including $147,000 billed relating to the district's investigation into its previously troubled police force, $156,000 billed under "confidential general" and $136,000 for human resources and "human resources confidential general." Dexter said Tuesday that he has asked for detailed itemized bills, but he was told the bills would need to be redacted prior to review, at a cost to the district. At last month's board meeting, trustees discussed hiring an forensic auditor to review Cary's billings. Interim Superintendent Rob Ball said he is in the process of reviewing companies.

"A majority of us want to get rid of them, but we want to do this right," Dexter said before the board meeting. "From what I've been told, if you cut them loose and bring in an auditor, they could drag this out."

Trustees were voted into office in June after promising major changes, including swift action to address the mounting legal fees. The board, which is the second in the district's four-year history, was sworn into office in July.

Since January, Twin Rivers has paid $2.6 million in legal fees to Cary's firm.

Twin Rivers has been fighting a myriad of lawsuits, including nine that were listed on Tuesday's closed-session agenda. No action was taken on the cases. Trustees cited the many ongoing lawsuits as a reason for not wanting to immediately sever their relationship with Cary's firm.

"We are in the middle of the ridiculous lawsuits the previous board brought forward," Trustee Michael Baker said. "It would be more damaging to pull out now."

Cary told The Bee last month that each month's payment consists of several months of billings from his office and the specialty firms he contracts out to represent Twin Rivers. Cary told The Bee last month that the June bill for $781,686 covered January through June 30 and "is the final billing for the 2011-2012" fiscal year.

However, the July bill scheduled for a vote on Tuesday night included invoices primarily from April, May and June and one for January.

A representative from Cary's office said all bills were turned in last month as stated, but Cary was unaware that all of the invoices would not be up for approval at the July board meeting. The document provided to The Bee on Tuesday showed the bills were all processed by July 11.

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Read more articles by Melody Gutierrez

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