Another View: Abusive lawsuits against school districts are a myth

08/30/2014 12:00 AM

08/29/2014 1:56 PM

Re “The cost of abusive lawsuits is taking a big bite out of state’s classrooms” (Viewpoints, Aug. 26). Robla School Board member Craig DeLuz, without presenting evidence, writes that school districts paid lots of money for attorney fees because of “abusive lawsuits.” That’s just wrong.

For years, I was an attorney representing most of the school districts in Sacramento County and many others elsewhere in California. During those decades, there were no abusive lawsuits against my client school districts and county offices of education. Years ago, when I was legal counsel for the school district board on which Mr. DeLuz now sits, Robla School District, none of the legal fees of the district had to do litigation, as there were no suits against the district.

In fact, only a small portion of all attorney fees for school districts I represented had to do with litigation. For example, as chief counsel for Sacramento City Unified School District through a law firm of which I was a member, there was little litigation; instead legal matters were mostly about issues such as contracts, property, collective bargaining agreement negotiations, arbitration and other issues with labor unions, incompetent teachers and legal opinions.

When there is litigation against Sacramento County school districts, it is mostly handled by the districts’ insurance agency, Schools Insurance Authority, which pays for the legal defense and lawsuit verdicts against the districts. Mr. DeLuz refers to the unusual case of legal fees at Twin Rivers Unified School District prior to the new superintendent beginning to work there. Sacramento Bee stories show Twin Rivers’ formerly high legal fees to be an aberration, having to do in part with many lawsuits generated from the district police department taking inappropriate action in the community off of school campuses.

Other Bee articles have dealt with community members’ contentions of previous overuse of attorneys at Twin Rivers. Sacramento Bee articles have reported on many legitimate jury awards against school districts in counties throughout the Sacramento area. But no articles I have seen in my daily reading of The Bee contended any lawsuits against districts and county offices of education were “abusive.” In my communications in recent years with attorneys representing students and school employees, the facts of their cases did not constitute inappropriately filed lawsuits. May I suggest to Mr. DeLuz that he not listen to baseless charges of lawsuit abuse by insurance company lobbyists whose objectives are to lessen citizen rights to use our legal system?

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