Scoop: The Union’s FOI lawsuit cost our schools about $17,000 to defend — legal fees will come from district’s general fund

The Union’s Freedom of Information Act lawsuit has cost our schools about $17,000 to defend, and the money will come out of the Nevada Joint Union High School District’s general operating budget to pay for it, Sierra Foothills Report has learned.

We calculated the legal tab from our own FOI request, and Karen Suenram, assistant superintendent of business services at NJUSHD, confirmed that the fees will come out of the district’s general coffers.

“Hi Jeff – You are correct,” Suenram said in an email. “The expense is currently close to $17,000. The District’s insurance does not cover this type of legal expense. The money will come from the District’s general operating budget. – Karen.”

Earlier this month, Sierra Foothills Report sent a public records request to the Nevada Joint Union High School District to find out what The Union’s recent FOI lawsuit against the District cost our schools — at a time of tight school budgets and cutbacks.

The Union lost the suit, as previously reported. We felt the FOI suit was misguided, because there was no “smoking gun” documents in the termination of Superintendent Marianne Cartan’s contract, just an honest professional disagreement about performance. It happens.

A judge agreed with the District’s position.

The incident cast a light on The Union’s lack of sourcing in its beat reporting more than anything else. Now the financial consequences — a $17,000 legal bill for our schools — are surfacing.

Our FOI request turned up the legal tab in detailed invoices: one for $14,790.76 in June and other for $2,100.46 in May for a grand total of $16,891.

We suspect our own FOI request will add some cost to the total as well and apologize for that. (We’ll match our cost with a donation to a high-school fundraiser, we told Suenram).

Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud & Romo, from Fresno, who handled the FOI case, are billing at the rate of $175 an hour — a reasonable enough rate. The case sucked up almost 100 hours in legal time. We’re not surprised.

Examples include a $43.75 bill for a telephone call to The Union’s City Editor regarding The Union’s petition for writ of mandate. The district also paid $43.75 for the law firm to “read and review The Union’s article re: filing of petition for preemptory writ against the district.”

Case research gobbled up most of the time.

A detailed invoice an introductory letter to Sierra Foothills Report totaling 21 pages can be read here:
Pelline Response to Public Records Act Request-1

Author: jeffpelline

Jeff Pelline is a veteran editor and award-winning journalist - in print and online. He is publisher of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine and its website SierraCulture.com. Jeff covered business and technology for The San Francisco Chronicle for 12 years, and he was a founding editor and Editor of CNET News for eight years, among other positions. Jeff has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's from Northwestern University. His hobbies include sailing, swimming, and trout fishing in the Sierra.

8 thoughts on “Scoop: The Union’s FOI lawsuit cost our schools about $17,000 to defend — legal fees will come from district’s general fund”

  1. I am not sure what $17k could fund but it would have been much better used towards the students. Then again if it produced some good information I would be praising the FOIA request. Damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

  2. I know we have different points of view on this, Jeff. I would write your blog title as ” Nevada Union board incompetence and secrecy cost 9 months of superintendent’s pay, an absence of school leadership for 3 months while facing losing WASC certification, and a $17,000 FOI defense expense.”

    There is a benefit to you being a gadfly to The Union. Neitzsche said “That which doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger.” I just think that the real elephant in the room is the performance of the Nevada Union board.

    1. Greg,
      One thing I’m still getting used to about small towns is that rumor, innuendo and “spin” often still trumps the truth and hard facts. Thanks for your thoughts though. And thanks to the judge for his observations about this case.

      1. I do agree that in depth reporting could accomplish more than a lawsuit.

        Something is very wrong, though, at the high school. A good example anyone can see is the LED information sign out in front. It is broken, many of the lights are out, and it is unreadable. Why wouldn’t someone there have the sense to turn off or fix a broken and unreadable sign? This is just a small problem where, apparently, no one is able to respond appropriately, and it is obvious to all who drive by. What does this say about their ability to respond to more complicated and intractable problems?

  3. Like the music, never heard that one before, as for irrational school districts, they’re everywhere! As are irrational editors, who dump free papers all over local businesses, and don’t have the sense to comp even electronic subscriptions to professional contributors.

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