LANCASTER — Harris & Associates law firm billed Antelope Valley Union High School District $66,237.50 in November and December despite no current Board member being authorized to confer with the firm, according to invoices reviewed by the Antelope Valley Press.
The invoices, obtained via a public records request, bring the firm’s total cost to the District to $244,712.16 since February 2019.
Former Board President Robert “Bob” Davis, who resigned Nov. 4, and Board members Victoria Ruffin and Amanda Parrell approved a three-year open-ended contract with Harris & Associates at the Jan. 24, 2019, meeting. Current Board Clerk Jill McGrady and trustee John Rush voted against the contract.
The redacted November and December invoices do not disclose whether Ruffin, Parrell or both conferred with $400-an-hour attorney John W. Harris, or $375-an-hour senior associate Herbert Hayden, and on which topic. Neither is authorized to confer with the firm, however.
The November invoice had 67 separate charges over 18 days. Nov. 8 was a busy day with eight separate billings including seven from Harris that ranged from three half-hour charges for $200 each to one 2.5-hour charge for $1,000. The firm also charged the District for five separate listings, including four by Harris, on Nov. 14. Nov. 14 is notable because that is the same day Ruffin and Parrell left a Board meeting following a split vote to approve the agenda.
Although the District was closed for most of December, Harris and Associates’ December invoice lists 55 separate charges over 19 days for $32,510.
Former member Davis was the only Board member authorized to confer with Harris & Associates. The Board voted 3-2 at the April 18 meeting, with McGrady and Rush dissenting, to authorize Davis to confer the firm on behalf of the Board.
Harris and Associates technically represents all five members of the Board. However, neither Harris nor Hayden has shared their opinions with McGrady and Rush, despite McGrady’s repeated requests for documents.
McGrady, seeing Harris seated in the audience for the Board’s Dec. 12 meeting, asked Harris who authorized him to be there.
“Direct those questions to Dr. Vierra,” Ruffin said at the meeting.
“By your own words, Mr. Harris, you state, ‘Davis is the only authorized representative of the governing Board to confer with the firm,’ ” McGrady said at the meeting. “So, that’s in your own words. And I still would like to get copies of all those documents you’ve created for us, particularly one, the legal opinion about me. I really would like to get copies of those.”
“Those copies are closed session items,” Ruffin said.
McGrady said as a member of the Board she is entitled to get copies of the opinions.
“You can ask for them,” Ruffin said.
“I actually asked you for them and you did not even respond,” McGrady said. “Did not even give me a courtesy response of saying. ‘I am not going to give them to you.’ Just ignored me.”
“Right,” Ruffin said. “Because once again, the response would have been, um, isn’t that Brown Act violation to respond to all Board members?”
“It was just to you,” McGrady said.
“But I saw everyone else on there,” Ruffin said. “So I’m responding now that it’s a closed item session and do not expect to get those.”
McGrady noted the Board was called to a 4 p.m. closed session prior to the start of the meeting without being asked if they were available.
“We had a one hour meeting and then had a two-hour break, Mr. Harris, and I’m assuming that we’re paying for those two hours of the dinner hour at $400 an hour,” McGrady said. “I know I mentioned this earlier, but I feel pretty strongly about this, Because we have people who are not authorized giving work to law firms, we’re spending just about $1,000 an hour for people to do duplication of work. And it’s wrong. This is money that should be going to kids.”
The December invoice had five separate charges for Dec. 12. Hayden charged the District for two separate transactions, one for 90 minutes at $562.50 and one for one hour, at $375. Harris charged the District for two hours, at $800, presumably for the two-hour lunch, and 3.5 hours, at $700. He also charged for five hours at $2,000. The total bill for the day was $4,437.50.