DeKalb Schools Keep Attorneys, Rack Up Massive Legal Bills

DeKalb Superior Court Judge Clarence Seeliger withdrew a motion to disqualify King & Spalding from the school district's suit against Heery International, concluding it would be too costly and time-consuming to replace the firm after nearly five years on the case, writes Ernie Suggs at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

"It is necessary for King & Spalding to continue, because the cost of replacing them is prohibitive," Seeliger said in his final ruling.

Heery had contended that King & Spalding attorneys had prior knowledge of criminal activities conducted by former DeKalb Superintendent Crawford Lewis and former Chief Operating Officer Patricia Reid, citing a conflict of interest.

Mark Grantham, an attorney for Heery, said the law firm and the district were "aware of misconduct by Pat, but Heery was never informed about what was going on," in the criminal investigation.

Reid and Lewis were indicted last year on charges of racketeering, theft and bribery, related to construction deals, but have not gone to trial, writes Suggs.

"As a direct result of their own conduct, they were material witnesses in the criminal trial and the civil trial," Grantham said of King & Spalding. "Their dual role as advocate and witness would violate Georgia rules of professional conduct."

Joe Loveland, a King & Spalding attorney, called it a "scurrilous accusation," suggesting that the attorneys representing the district had lied.

"Heery committed $100 million worth of fraud between 2003 and 2007," Loveland said, referring to the pending lawsuit allegations. "They filed this to try to get away with it."

DeKalb launched a $100 million fraud lawsuit against Heery, which was a major builder of projects throughout the district, writes Suggs. The suit alleges that Heery moved money between various ongoing projects, altered time sheets and billed the system for work that hadn't been done.

Local parents are highly disappointed with the ongoing case and the estimated amounts the school board is spending on lawyers in the last year. As the DeKalb County School Watch comments:

"Our board does not realize just how fed up the public is with their lack of fiduciary responsibility to the people of DeKalb. What level of cognitive dissonance do our board members have in order to continue this never-ending cycle of outrageous (but hidden) legal fees and bad governance? How disengaged are our state leaders in that they can continue to turn blind eyes to irresponsible actions of the DeKalb School Board?"

King & Spalding have already cost the school $17 million in legal fees. If the case is won, the firm is set to receive an additional $19 million from the DeKalb district.

Grantham argued that this deal gives King & Spalding a financial stake in the outcome of the case.

"The allegation they made is quite right; it is not a fair contract," responded Seeliger. "But they negotiated it."

Thomas E. Bowen, DeKalb School Board chairman, said he was satisfied with the ruling.

"We are relieved that we didn't have to deal with the issue of restarting this case after so many years of investment," Bowen said.

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