LANCASTER — Attorney John Harris of the Harris & Associates law firm continues to submit invoices to Antelope Valley Union High School District even though no current member of the Board is authorized to confer with him.
Harris billed the District $8,160 for work performed over 10 different days in August. The descriptions are redacted.
Former Board president Robert “Bob” Davis, who resigned suddenly last November, was the only member authorized to confer with Harris.
Davis and current Board members Victoria Ruffin and Amanda Parrell authorized Davis to confer with Harris, who charges $400 an hour, at its April 18, 2019, meeting.
Harris has billed the District approximately $147,120 through August since Davis resigned, based on invoices obtained via a public records request by the Antelope Valley Press.
Ruffin previously acknowledged that she had conferred with Harris prior to Davis’ resignation and would continue to do so. Parrell has also conferred with Harris and his senior associate attorney Herbert Hayden.
Harris has not shared his work with all Board members.
Board Clerk Jill McGrady renewed her request for all opinions written by Harris and/or his firm for the District at Thursday’s Board meeting. McGrady submitted her first request on Oct. 25, 2019.
“With each of the first four requests, Mr. Harris refused to provide this Board, his client, of which I am currently the presiding officer, with copies of Board property,” McGrady said at Thursday’s meeting.
McGrady quoted a letter from Harris where he acknowledged that Davis was the only member of the Board authorized to confer with his firm, adding, “The requested material remains in his sole custody.”
Following Davis’ resignation, Harris said Ruffin, then the Board’s vice president, “assumed the duties of the president.”
Harris apparently provided the firm’s legal opinions to Ruffin to maintain in her capacity as the new president of the Board.
“This was without a Board vote to give Dr. Ruffin authorization to confer with that firm,” McGrady said.
Harris then directed McGrady to request copies of his firm’s legal opinions for the Board from Ruffin, she said.
“I did ask Dr. Ruffin for those copies. She refused,” McGrady said.
Ruffin served as interim president from Nov. 4 to Dec. 18 of last year without authorization to confer with Harris’ firm.
Los Angeles County Superintendent of Schools Debra Duardo appointed McGrady Board clerk and its presiding officer on Dec. 18 after the Board failed to hold its annual organizational meeting last December due to Ruffin and Parrell’s absence.
Harris refused McGrady’s requests for the legal documents again in December and January, apparently because he still considered Ruffin to be interim president. (Harris continues to address his firm’s invoices to Ruffin, listing her as interim president.
McGrady said Ruffin, in a June 9 email to Rachel Orosco, executive assistant to Superintendent David Vierra, acknowledged she was not president.
“Dr. Ruffin states, and I quote, ‘I am neither president or clerk, I will not be signing,’ ” McGrady said. “Therefore, Dr. Ruffin, in your own words, you acknowledge you are not the president
McGrady requested copies of all legal opinions and work product that Harris and Associates completed for the District while they had authorization to work for the District and were paid for the work.
“I ask that you turn over that work product by next Friday, Oct. 23, 2020,” McGrady said.
McGrady added that Harris and Associates is not authorized to work with anyone on the Board.
“As I have stated repeatedly, all work this firm is completing for you, Dr. Ruffin, and you, Ms. Parrell, is at your own expense,” McGrady said. “As you have been saying tonight, no one or two Board members can create work product that will cost the District money. The two of you have racked up somewhere over $150,000 in unauthorized charges.”
Harris and Associates’ August invoice shows a $1,600 charge for four hours on Aug. 13, the same day as the Board’s August meeting, which lasted about four hours, 20 minutes, according to the time on the District’s YouTube channel.
The time includes the Board’s vote to adjourn to closed session and any public comment prior to closed session, even though that portion is not broadcast. Ruffin and Parrell did not attend the closed session.