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“Millions” spent on Las Vegas law firms: Public demands transparency for Clark County School District.

July 1, 2014

Recently, an online watchdog journalism outlet posted this article claiming that the School District Office of General Counsel for Clark County has spent $2.1 million in excess of their annual $3 million budget to hire Las Vegas law firms.  With records reviewed by investigative journalists for the Nevada Journal and information gathered by the Nevada Policy Research Institute, local writer Kevin Gray provides several examples of how Clark County ISD has failed to provide its stakeholders, including the general taxpaying public, with the transparency in operations we deserve.

For example, Gray outlines a five-year old event in which a student was killed by another student driving drunk. The responsible party had admittedly become intoxicated while at a party involving CCSD police employees where underage teens had been allowed to drink. According to a local news report, CCSD lawyers reputedly directed school police not to investigate the death (or alleged subsequent cover up), with the reason that the Metro, as an impartial third party, would be better suited to the task. But that’s only part of the reason Gray is upset: despite retaining a legal team of ten attorneys, the district has been hiring Las Vegas law firms on a consultant basis, such as in the death of the student in 2009.

It’s also apparently exceptionally difficult to determine which Las Vegas law firms have which cases, according to Gray. Information isn’t presented at meetings for school board members or trustees regarding the legal work of in-house or consultant lawyers for the district. And the facts that Gray chooses to emphasize in the watchdog article suggest outrage at the district’s paying between $170 and $250 an hour to retain attorneys from both local Las Vegas law firms as well as from a law firm billing itself as “the largest global employment and labor law practice with more than 1,000 attorneys in over 60 offices worldwide.”

At the conclusion of his article, Gray outlines his questions that he claims have gone unanswered, to the dismay of stakeholders and public taxpayers: “Why is the legal department spending so much on outside law firms? What is in-house counsel doing that prevents them from working on these cases? Are there any plans to reduce future expenditures? Why are these law firm expenditures not presented at board meetings?” And while the demand for transparency can certainly be lauded, other critically thinking Las Vegas citizens may have some questions of their own.

Like: What rights to privacy and professional protection does the public allow to employees and internal administration of a publicly trusted institution? Is this model of an educational system problematic for the intersection of business (of hiring, retaining, managing and administering practices) and instruction (and safekeeping?) of children and minors in the state? How do we expect publicly funded and essentially government-operated organizations to perform as well as those in an industry motivated by profit and growth? Yes, as Gray demands: show us where the money is going, and how much—if only so that we can better evaluate on a more appropriate scale what is working, and where change may be needed.

 

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