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June 14, 2010

LEGAL BILLS? WHAT LEGAL BILLS?

John Briscoe catches his fellow board members stonewalling and covering-up. So what do they do when he calls them on it? They vote in public to keep things secret.


Bad move, hacks. 

Please note: I have nothing against appropriating a set sum of money against which the professionals can bill. Stan and I did that through Featherstone regularly. But we always submitted a detailed breakdown of products and services provided - dates, times, places, approvals, and other proof of work -  and that info was always put on the consent agenda for the board to read into the public record and approve at the meeting. It was not unknown for us to have to show up and explain the work we did, due to its technical nature and high profile (computers in the classroom - OMG!)

That's all Briscoe is asking for - a simple explanation of the work done. The other board members don't want to do it, even though most other Districts do, and even the county executive recommends that they do. 

Who told them not to? Why their lawyers, of course.

Dirty, dirty, dirty. And if there is no dirt, why the cover-up? Did they learn nothing from Nixon?

Time to disband all school districts. No district, no lawsuits, no legal fees, no big pots of money to tempt politicos. Every school a stand-alone entity, every child's education directed by his parents, all state funds spent on education paid only on third-party proof of ongoing achievement.

From John's PR:
Please see my summary of experiences regarding our little legal billing detail secret spending scandal.  The OC Register (OC Watchdog) has expressed an interest in the story and invested over an hour of interview and document review time.  Should be interesting.  News at 11:00!!!!
Click on "More" for the rest of the story.
Dear Legal Beagle Friends:
 
Please see my summary of experiences regarding our little legal billing detail secret spending scandal.  The OC Register (OC Watchdog) has expressed an interest in the story and invested over an hour of interview and document review time.  Should be interesting.  News at 11:00!!!!
 
FYI.  If you have any comments or thoughts please let me know so I can sharpen my arrows.
 
6812 Glen Drive
Huntington Beach, CA 92647
Phone 714.903.8774 ~ Fax 714.901.8422
www.JohnBriscoe.com

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

* * * * PRESS RELEASE * * * *

Exclusive for Orange County Register ~ OC Watchdog

Tsforza@ocregister.com 714.796.6910 ~ 714.350.5365

625 North Grand, Santa Ana, CA 92701

 

OVSD SECRET SPENDING OF PUBLIC MONEY


The purpose of this press release is to summarize the points regarding OVSD secret spending of public money. It is as simple as, "…it is illegal to spend public money in secret…" as the OVSD currently does in the conduct of its legal services. The decision to have secret legal billing expenses is based on the will of the 4 to 1 Board majority including a member of the State Bar and practicing attorney.
OVSD Legal Billing System
OVSD and a few other school districts end up with secret spending on legal bills because they pre-approve budget money before any legal work is done. This process starts when Administration proposes a pre-approved purchase order for Board approval even though no legal work has been done. The Board approves the advance purchase order to be used as a ‘draw-down’ declining balance. As legal work is done, the attorneys submit their bills for immediate payment against the ‘open’ purchase order.
The ‘pre-approved / open purchase order’ system is common for many vendors including Home Depot, Food Service, and other vendors. In the case of all these other vendors every single billing invoice is available for public view down to the ounces of nails or meat purchased (billing for student services redact confidential student name and other identification information). However, in OVSD when the legal billing detail is requested in OVSD, salient detail is redacted to the point of making the billing detail meaningless. All that is provided is name of attorney, hours worked and dollars billed, and date of work.
Repeated C.P.R.A. Requests Denied
In addition to (1) attorney name, (2) hours worked & dollars billed, (3) date of work, Trustee Briscoe has repeatedly requested:
(4) Name of Person Initiating Legal Work
(5) General Description of Legal Work Done
(6) Affirmation of any Written Legal Work Completed
OVSD has refused to provide these additional points of information thereby making the redacted legal billing detail provided essentially useless.
There is no basis in California Public Records Act (C.P.R.A.) Law proscribing legal billing detail from public disclosure. There is no basis in Law to keep OVSD legal billing detail secret.
Board Attorney Legal Opinion
The law firm of Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud & Romo (AALRR) has opined that the Board must vote as a body to approve release of accounting information (legal billing detail). There is no basis in California Bar Practice, California Law or Court Case Law for an attorney to demand the client team vote in favor of accounting information release to a member of the client team. Each Trustee is elected by the people individually and sit on the Board as five peers and equals. No precedent exists to require one peer to ask permission from the others before being allowed to see accounting information. All public spending is public information.
AALRR has opined that all legal billing detail is attorney client privilege protected. This creates the absurd situation of Trustee Briscoe being denied legal billing detail due to so-called attorney-client privilege even though he is the client (as a member of the Board client team). California State Bar Attorney practice rules clearly state there is no difference between public and private law practice, and that attorneys should error on the side of giving more information rather then less to the client. And in many ways, elected Trustees are an extension of The People that paid for the attorney legal work. The People have a right to see how their money is being spent, but not in OVSD.
AALRR Legal Opinion in Error vs. OCDE
Orange County Department of Education General Counsel Doctor Ronald (Ron) Wenkart J.D. (714) 966.4220 has authorized and encouraged full and complete legal billing detail disclosure to the public. And in fact, his office has distributed full legal accounting information from most Orange County school districts under a recent CPRA. Doctor Wenkart J.D. is the leading expert on disclosure law in public education on behalf of the taxpayers with an opinion exactly the opposite of the small private law firm of AALRR whose advice leads to secret spending of public money.
Doctor Wenkart J.D. has directed OC school districts to provide full legal billing detail to the public with personal student and confidential legal matters redacted. The law allows confidential legal strategies to be kept secret by a Board as well as student and personnel information. Otherwise, all else is public domain, except in OVSD.
Serious Financial Implications of Secret Spending
OVSD recently authorized $350,000 for legal fees (voted 4 to 1 with Trustee Briscoe voting NO) in error. This profligate spending spree was identified in the meeting agenda of 1 June 2010 as "…DUPLICATE PO IN ERROR…" POD38R2137 Account 40845940815808 and brought before the Board to cancel. Due to OVSD secret spending on legal bills Trustee Briscoe pointed out this sort of error as the result of keeping secrets in the District.
When a Trustee is Not a Trustee
An elected school board Trustee only inures the rights and responsibilities of Trustee when in a legally posted meeting, between opening and closing gavel. Any CPRA information request from a Trustee is the same as any citizen CPRA request because he/she is just an ordinary citizen if the request is made outside of a posted meeting. The elected attorney on the OVSD Board and AALRR have claimed disclosure of (4) Name of Person Initiating Legal Work, (5) General Description of Legal Work Done, (6) Affirmation of any Written Legal Work Completed would compromise legally permitted confidential legal strategies. Therefore, a legal adversary could ‘peek’ into the heart and mind of the Board by requesting legal billing detail to the detriment of the District. And a legal adversary, ordinary citizen, and Trustee are all the same when submitting a CPRA for legal billing detail.
When Can Legal Billing Detail be Discussed?
A Trustee member of the OVSD Board brought up accounting information / legal billing detail in a closed session meeting without any public posting of this matter for discussion in clear violation of the Brown Act. There is no place in the Brown Act for accounting information to be discussed in secret without public posting of the subject matter. And even if it were publicly posted it is it is still illegal because the Brown Act provides no exception for legal billing detail as special from any other accounting information. While confidential personnel, personal, and legal strategies can be redacted, the only legal and correct place to discuss accounting information / legal billing detail is in public session like any other purchase order invoice.
The Trustee who brought up the illegal topic of legal billing detail in the recent OVSD closed session proudly proffered that moment as the right and correct place to ask the attorney present about his legal billing detail. Trustee Briscoe demurred reminding the other Trustee that it was illegal to discuss accounting information in the closed session. Further, Trustee Briscoe reminded the other Trustees and attorney present that no legal billing detail was present to ask questions from, the inane final result of illegal discussion of matters not posted for public information in closed session. Trustee Briscoe will record out the perfidy of the illegal discussion in closed session and expose the debacle in public 15 June 2010 in compliance with Brown Act violations. It is not clear what other remedies might be needed to cure this OVSD Brown Act violation. Trustee Briscoe was shocked and appalled by the whole affair from start to finish.
Why All the Secrecy?
Nobody knows why OVSD (4 to 1) wants to keep its legal accounting information / legal billing detail secret. We won’t know until we see the details like other normal school districts have provided. Secret spending of public money cannot be allowed to stand. Doctor Ron Wenkard J.D. is absolutely correct in his support and affirmation of the public right to know.

APPROVED for EDITING and PUBLICATION

* * * * END PRESS RELEASE * * * *

Submitted and Approved by John Briscoe, Elected Trustee Board Member of the Ocean View School District reflecting his own opinions and the views of nobody else.
John Briscoe is an active community volunteer with the Boy Scouts of America, Grace Lutheran Church, Alliance for Education, Marina High School Site Council, and Rotary International LA5 Rodeo Chapter. Go to www.JohnBriscoe.com for more information.

John Briscoe has earned two undergraduate degrees from CSULB (BA Psychology and BA Speech Communication), his M.P.A. from CSULB (Masters in Public Administration, and his M.B.A. from Claremont Graduate University, Peter Drucker School of Business. John has performed senior management roles with major consumer package goods firms including Kraft/General Foods Inc, Mars/Food Master Inc, Kellogg/Keebler Inc, and The Hain Celestial Group Inc.

John Briscoe can be contacted by email: John@Crestwave, or phone: 714.903.8774, or SnailMail: 6812 Glen Drive, Huntington Beach, CA 92647.


 
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Sunset Beach, CA 90742
714.903.8774  Fax 714.901.8422
 
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