Sleeping Attorney

ASLEEP ON THE JOB? — John W. Har­ris, the Los An­gel­es-based, $400-an-hour at­tor­ney re­cent­­ly hired by the An­tel­ope Valley Union High School Dis­trict, appears to be napping during Thurs­day’s Board meeting.

LANCASTER — Antelope Valley Union High School Dis­trict’s new Los Angeles-based, $400-an-hour attorney John W. Har­ris, made his debut at Thurs­day night’s Board meeting and ap­parently slept through parts of the four-and-a-half-hour public por­tion of the meeting.

Harris leaned back in his chair and appeared to fall asleep during presentations on the California Dash­board and a school safe­ty update, as the meeting pro­gressed. It appeared that he slept through approximately one hour of the meeting.

Closed session after the meet­ing lasted another one-and-a-half hours.

Board President Robert “Bob” Davis, Vice President Victoria Ruf­fin and Clerk Amanda Par­rell approved a three-year con­tract with Harris’ firm, Harris & As­so­ciates, at the Board’s Jan. 24 meeting, with trustees Jill Mc­Grady and John Rush dis­sent­ing.

The contract was approved de­spite the fact that the district has in-house legal counsel and a con­tract with Fagen Friedman & Ful­frost, one of the state’s leading law firms for educational services.

Harris sat in the audience at the beginning of the meeting. Davis called for a short recess after the Board approved the agen­da, then Davis, Ruffin, Harris, District Su­perintendent David Vier­ra and District counsel Bridget Cook went to the back of the Boardroom for a discussion.

Neither McGrady, Rush, nor Parrell were allowed to join the dis­cussion. Davis, Ruffin, Vierra, Cook and Harris emerged after about 30 minutes and Har­ris took a seat at the dais next to Cook.

McGrady acknowledged Har­ris’ presence on the dais and asked why he was at the meeting.

“Are you visiting or are we paying you?” McGrady asked.

Harris said quietly, “You’re paying me.”

McGrady added there had been no public dis­cuss­ion regarding his presence at the meeting and she sought to clarify it for the pub­lic’s sake.

“Could we just clarify a few things?” she asked. “It’s $400 an hour. Is that cor­rect?”

Harris responded quiet­ly that it was true.

He also will bill the dis­trict for his travel time, about two hours each way, and to review the agenda. Har­ris said he reviewed the agenda before the meet­ing.

“Did anyone on the Board re­ceive any in­for­ma­tion from that? Because I believe that we should all receive that,” McGrady said.

Harris said he did not under­stand the question.

“When you reviewed the agenda for this evening’s meeting, did you give any­one on our Board in­for­ma­tion concerning that?” Mc­Grady said.

Harris said he discussed the agenda with Board mem­bers, but “it’s con­fid­en­tial.”

“I believe if you share in­for­mation with one, you have to share it with all,” Mc­Grady said.

Harris said he would dis­agree with that statement.

“A Board member can call me and I would re­spond to that,” he said. “No action is being taken as a result of a phone call from a Board member to me.”

McGrady asked Harris who auth­orized him to be there. Har­ris said it was pursuant to his con­tract.

But Harris’ contract does not explicitly say that he should attend meet­ings. According to the con­tract, Harris “shall pro­vide specialized legal ser­vices to the District on an as-needed basis, as dir­ected by its Board of Trust­ees in accordance with the Dis­trict’s ad­min­is­tra­tive reg­ulations for the as­sign­ment of legal coun­sel.”

“I just think the tax­payers need to know that we are now spending $4,000 to $5,000 per meet­ing for an extra,” McGrady said. “I believe that is im­portant to know.”

She also asked Harris about a 2016 report in the Los Cerritos Community News. According to the re­port, Harris overbilled the Water Rec­lamation District of Southern California in Lake­wood, about $2 mil­lion in 2013 and 2014, after a former employee of his firm produced doc­u­ments that proved as much.

“Would you like to re­spond to that?” McGrady asked.

Harris said he did not and that it’s confidential.

“I just feel like our tax­payers need to know where our dollars are going,” McGrady said.

Harris said the articles to which she was referring are “mere allegations and that’s all I will say at this point.”

McGrady cited another article from the paper that said Harris and the water agency later entered into a confidential settlement agreement in 2016.

“That says to me, that there was some sort of end­ing to it,” McGrady said. “It wasn’t just an allegation.”

Harris said she could “draw any inference” she cared to.

McGrady also asked Har­ris if he was related to anyone on the Board, or had a personal or business re­lationship with anyone on the Board.

“None whatsoever,” he said.

It is not immediately clear how the Board found Harris’ firm.

McGrady said there needed to be a pub­lic dis­cuss­ion on how the Dis­trict uses Har­ris’ ser­vices. Her un­der­stand­ing of the contract is that, as they use Harris’ services, the district would pay the $400 an hour, but not for every Board meeting.

“We were here five hours at our last meeting,” she said. “So, $400 an hour times five hours, plus the two hours here, two hours there, maybe more … I spent more than two hours on the agenda. I don’t know how many hours it took (Harris to review the agen­da). But we’re be­gin­ning to look at quite a bit of money that is twice a month for the rest of the year.”

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