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