ASRRT, The Trust: Flushing Tax Dollars Down the Toilet

$280,000.00. That’s what The GPS Governing Board President said it cost for the Arizona Schools Risk Retention Trust (ASRRT) to litigate an employment lawsuit that settled in favor of the employee. That money came from taxpayers. Taxpayers gave the money to Gilbert Public Schools. GPS turned around and gave the money to ASRRT, The Trust. Don’t think for a minute that was the complete cost of the lawsuit; that $280,000.00 was just the price for defending GPS.

That money is gone, and it did absolutely nothing to educate students. There seems to be no accounting for how the taxpayers’ money is spent once ASRRT, The Trust, gets their hands on it. Citizens can’t find out who, what, when, where, how and why the money was funneled directly into the pockets of a select group of attorneys. We tried, but the GPS response to our FOIA request was pretty much, “%&@ this!” We’re still trying to find that information; Westie is persistent.

$280,000 down the toilet of litigation that never should have been necessary. The Good Old Boys of GPS ran the district like a fiefdom, illegally discriminating against employees and retaliating against employees who reported illegal conduct. GOBs could do that, secure in the knowledge that ASRRT, The Trust, would defend them to the bitter end. [There’s much, much more after the video. Scroll down.]

Actually, it’s a feature, not a bug: from our viewpoint, ASRRT, The Trust, intends for each and every potential claim against GPS to come to a very bitter end for everyone except the lawyers hired to defend GOBs. GPS employees broke both legs of a special-needs student? Scorched earth litigation! That case went to the law firm of Holm, Wright, Hyde and Hays.  A jury awarded $215,612 in medical and compensatory damages to the child. The law firm continued litigating against her parents until the judge told them to knock it off. Holm, Wright, Hyde and Hays was paid handsomely, even for the litigation they continued after they lost the trial. Sheeesh.

We heard that it cost a million dollars for the Safford v. Redding case that Holm, Wright, Hyde and Hays took to the US Supreme Court, fighting for the right of ugly old white men school district administrators to strip search teenage girls. Thank goodness, Good Old Matthew W. Wright lost that one, but you’d never know it from the write-up on his website: “Wright ultimately won immunity for his clients, one of many appellate successes.” Actually, Good Old Matthew W. Wright assured the justices that ruling in his favor would even allow school districts to do cavity searches on students. Justice Stevens, joined by Justice Ginsburg, felt that unconstitutionality of the search was obvious: “This is, in essence, a case in which clearly established law meets clearly outrageous conduct.” Another day, another dollar  another few thousand dollars for the lawyers who were paid with taxpayer funds.

ASRRT, The Trust litigates against students who have been injured at school. Really! One high school student, who was brutally attacked a week after Good Old Dave Allison recommended the Governing Board adopt charges against a National Board Certified Teacher, had his life forever changed, and not in a good way. The lawsuit claims the student is permanently scarred, diminished and disabled. It further claims his horrific injuries limit his ability to work, organize thoughts, process information — yep, this kid’s injuries required neurological treatment, multiple major surgeries and he requires continuing medical care. Worse, the lawsuit states the attacker was a student known by administrators to be dangerous, violent and a bully. The 17-year-old victim wanted to serve in the US Armed Forces. Now he can’t.

Holm, Wright, Hyde and Hays is defending GPS in this lawsuit. You would think that ASRRT, The Trust, would attempt to settle the case and save the student and his family from the trauma of scorched-earth litigation, but you would be wrong. No matter that most likely, it would cost less to settle for the full amount requested in the Notice of Claim than the scorched-earth litigation will cost. What’s a few hundred thousand taxpayer dollars if it’s going to lawyer pals of the dudes who run ASRRT, The Trust? Trial is set for the end of October 2014 according to the current court calendar.

The President of the GPS Governing Board indicated in a public meeting that ASRRT, The Trust’s litigation strategy isn’t what their school board clients want. Popular opinion seems to be that The Trust has been a cudgel to be used against GPS students, parents and employees. It seems that requests for services for special needs students have been especially despised and litigated by ASRRT, The Trust. If crochety GPS admins don’t want to give SpEd students the services they need, no matter how sensible a case the parent presents, ASRRT, The Trust can bring on litigation against the parent. Former interim superintendent Jack Keegan explained to the public about a case that  lasted just long enough to pay attorney Denise Lowell-Britt a few thousand dollars. It so riled up this parent, she decided to run for a seat on the Governing Board. Thank goodness, she won:

What the District did was to offer Ms. Burk the opportunity to take her visually impaired son outside the school District. The District offered to pay for placement and for Ms. Burk to live outside the school District as long as she signed an agreement that her son would not be enrolled back in Gilbert Public Schools for that year, unless she died. There was no lawsuit related to that. Ms. Burk instead enrolled her child at Desert Ridge High School. At one point, Ms. Burk asked for an independent evaluation of her child. The District turned that independent evaluation down and filed a due process claim against Ms. Burk. The District withdrew the claim and ended up paying for a more expensive independent evaluation than what was requested, plus the District paid her attorney fees because the District was wrong in its action. To state it clearly one last time, Ms. Burk never sued the Gilbert Public Schools.

Can any civilized person accept the magnitude of the cognitive dissonance of making that offer: we’ll pay you to move out of GPS boundaries and take your kid with you, and he can’t come back to GPS unless you die. Truly disgusting. Good Old Dave Allison did that, probably doing what his lawyer advised him to do. No wonder citizens of the Town of Gilbert oppose using ASRRT, The Trust, as a cudgel.

Here’s another inexplicable legal battle: even though GPS already had a judgment against the district for illegal discrimination based on race and national origin, ASRRT, The Trust duked it out against the victim of that discrimination.  We figure the lawyers, Georgia Staton and Elizabeth Gilbert of the Jones, Skelton & Hochuli law firm must have big fat hairy litigation budgets from ASRRT, The Trust. Our clue was that the lawyers litigated settlement terms for weeks after agreement was reached in mediation.

It seems to us non-lawyers that “Let’s fight over what we already agreed on!” offers a chance to increase billable hours at the eleventh hour and fifty-ninth minute. Maybe it’s impossible for lawyers to resist leaving a few dollars of litigation budgets on the table after ASRRT, The Trust, offered it up. We found an intriguing example: what happened when Adam H. Victor, an energy industry executive, hired the law firm DLA Piper. It became a messy case, but one of the attorneys wrote an email to another attorney in the law firm stating that they were “churning” excessive legal fees as a means of retaliating against this client who questioned his bills about their legal fees:

“Now Vince has random people working full time on random research projects in standard ‘churn that bill, baby!’ mode,” Mr. Thomson wrote. “That bill shall know no limits.” A DLA Piper spokesman said the firm did not comment on pending litigation. Legal ethics scholars said that it was highly unusual to find documentary evidence of possible churning — the creation of unnecessary work to drive up a client’s bill.

Speaking of “Churn that bill, baby,” we’re not the only people who have noticed this perverse incentive:

a dirty secret in the legal industry – there is an inherent incentive driving attorney compensation – often referred to as the billable hour – that drives up the cost of litigation defense. In other words, the very law firms that represent the companies “victimized” by the cost of litigation are often a significant contributor to the increased litigation costs… the very attorneys representing those most affected by these problems are often the chief contributors or, at least, complacent co-conspirators.

GOBs and ASRRT, The Trust: BFFs. It’s no wonder that citizens, taxpayers, employees and students are tired of it. Thank goodness GPS did not renew their pre-paid legal plan for next year. Saving money by using Trust lawyers who cut their rates has cost GPS a fortune! Enjoy the cartoon below: legalmath

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