LANCASTER — The California School Boards Association sent a cease-and-desist letter on Wednesday to attorney John W. Harris after CSBA management learned Harris, the $400-an-hour attorney hired by Antelope Valley Union High School District’s governing Board majority, misrepresented himself and his firm Harris & Associates’ educational credentials on their website.
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.”
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.”
The letter says that CSBA reached out to Harris & Associates by phone on May 17 requesting that the false references be removed. Harris asked CSBA to send a cease-and-desist letter instead.
“CSBA hereby demands that the above-described references be removed from your website forthwith and that you and your firm immediately cease and refrain from making any kind of communication (verbal, written, electronic or otherwise) that involves the use of CSBA’s or CCSA’s name without consent,” the letter said.
Harris had until the end of business today to remove the references. They were gone as of Thursday afternoon.
Harris did not immediately return a message left with his office Thursday afternoon.
The California Council of School Attorneys is a nonprofit minimum continuing legal education, or MCLE, accredited professional organization that is affiliated with the California School Boards Association. Membership is comprised of school law attorneys who represent school districts, county offices of education, and community colleges in California, according to its website.
Harris & Associates is a Los Angeles-based firm with two attorneys — Harris and senior associate Herbert Hayden.
AV Union High School District school Board President Robert “Bob” Davis, Vice President Victoria Ruffin and Clerk Amanda Parrell approved a three-year open-ended contract with Harris & Associates at the Board’s Jan. 24 meeting. Trustees Jill McGrady and John Rush voted no. Student trustee Noah Sveiven also voted no.
When asked at a May 1 meeting of the Antelope Valley Teachers Association Representative Council how he found Harris and Associates, Davis gave conflicting answers.
“Reaching out to CSBA, NSBA they gave us a way of individuals to look at,” he said. “We reached out, it’s kind of like an RFP where you put the word out that you’re looking for one particular area of expertise. A few different firms responded back. Speaking with a few of those different firms at that point I felt that Mr. Harris was more qualified because of his background experience working with LA Unified and other school districts also.”
Davis said after the meeting that he found Harris & Associates via a search for law firms that did work for school districts.
“They recommended that we could have more than one Board attorney,” Davis said.
The Los Angeles Unified School District is the second largest public school system in the United States, serving an estimated 694,000 total students in the 2018-19 school year. The district has 63,576 employees and $7.49 billion in expenses, according to an August 2018 fact sheet produced by the District. LA Unified has an Office of the General Counsel with Administrative Legal Services, Business & Government Services, Education Legal Services, Facilities Services and Labor & Employment Services teams.
It’s not clear when Harris worked for LA Unified or what services he might have provided to LA Unified. The Antelope Valley Press has a pending California Pubic Records Act request with L.A. Unified seeking information on what services, if any, Harris has provided.