LANCASTER — The Harris & Associates law firm submitted $48,593 in invoices for three month’s work to the Antelope Valley Union High School District.
The invoices, obtained via a request through the California Public Records request, show that approximately $37,489 worth of legal services came before board President Robert “Bob” Davis was authorized to confer with the two-attorney legal firm.
The invoices will be part of the Board’s consent agenda at today’s meeting. The meeting begins at 10 a.m. in the boardroom at the District office, 44811 Sierra Highway.
Davis, Ruffin, and Parrell approved the three-year contract with Harris & Associates at the Jan. 24 meeting. Trustees Jill McGrady and John Rush voted no.
Davis signed the contract on Feb.1. The trio did not authorize Davis to confer with the firm until April 18. Davis, Ruffin and Parrell approved an open purchase order for $75,000 through June 30 — the end of the 2018-19 fiscal year — for legal services from Harris & Associates at the May 9 meeting.
Principal attorney John W Harris charges $400 an hour, senior associate Herbert Hayden charges $375 an hour.
Of note, attorneys Peter Fagen and Jay Fernow, partners in Fagen Friedman & Fulfrost, one of the state’s leading educational law firms, charge $310 an hour for their services. Partner Jacqueline Litra charges $275 an hour, associate Vanessa Lee charges $215 an hour and associate Phillip Mullen charges $225 an hour.
No other Board member was authorized to confer with Harris & Associates. However, Ruffin admitted she conferred with the firm. She refused to stop seeking Harris’ advice when asked by student trustee Noah Sveiven at the Board’s May 9 meeting.
The invoices show the date, lawyer, hours/quantity, rate and the amount charged. The descriptions, including which Board member conferred with the firm and on which topic, are redacted.
There were 34 contacts with Harris in February, according to the $14,940 invoice.
The first contact came on Feb.2 for 1.5 hours. That cost the District $600. The next contact with Harris came on Feb. 4 for approximately 36 minutes. That cost the District $240. There were other contacts with Harris on Feb. 7, three on Feb. 8, two on Feb. 11, four on Feb. 12, and three on Feb. 13.
Harris billed the District $3,640 for four separate contacts on Feb.14. That was the day Harris attended his first Board meeting and appeared to take a nap. The meeting, including closed session, lasted six hours. It cost the District $2,400. Harris appeared to give the District a discount for his drive to and from the Antelope Valley. He charged $200 for the 3.2 hours of travel.
Business picked up for Harris and Hayden in March with 40 contacts for $13,457. Ten of the contacts were with Hayden. There were multiple contacts on the same day. For example, Harris billed the District for three contacts on March 1, 5, 6, 12 and 17; two contacts on March 4, 11, 13., 19, 21, 22 and 26. There were four contacts, two each with Harris and Hayden, on March 18.
Conferences with Harris & Associates appeared to pick up near Board meeting dates. Harris also conferred with the Board by telephone during closed session on some dates. District officials confirmed.
April was the busiest month for Harris and Hayden 55 contacts for about $20,196. As with February and March there are days with multiple contacts with Harris and Hayden, particularly around the April 11 and 25 Board meetings.
The invoice shows one contact with Hayden and two contacts with Harris on April 25. One of those is presumably related to a closed session item to authorize Harris & Associates to review and analyze the employment agreements between the District and Superintendent David Vierra and former General Counsel Bridget Cook.
There were six more contacts on April 26 — two with Hayden and four with Harris including a 2.6-hour meeting or conference call that cost the District $1,040.
Davis, Ruffin, and Parrell fired Cook in closed session at the May 9 meeting.
Davis said he found Harris & Associates via a search for law firms that did work for school districts.
Harris’ website represented that the firm’s “attorneys are participating members in many school-related professional organizations, including the Coalition for Adequate School Housing, California Association of School Business Officials, California Council of School Attorneys and the California and National School Boards Association.
However, the California School Boards Association sent Harris a cease-and-desist letter — at Harris’ request— last month after CSBA management learned Harris misrepresented himself and his firm Harris & Associates’ educational credentials on their website.
According to a letter by CSBA General Counsel Kathryn Meola, “(a) search of our records has revealed no indication of your membership or participation, past or present, or of any other attorney in your firm in either organization. Therefore, the references on your website are false, inaccurate and misleading.”