Sweetwater Officials May Get Legal Fees Paid By School DistrictPosted: January 26, 2012
(Update: 1/30/2012 Board decided not to take a vote on legal fees. Large turnout in opposition to fees. On 1/14/2012 defendants pleaded not guilty in underlying criminal case involving charges of perjury, filing false documents and wrongful influence. Next hearing in criminal case March 23, 2012 9 am Dept 50)
It’s not as if School Districts throughout California aren’t already struggling financially and trying to avoid teacher and staff layoffs, one school district in San Diego County (Sweetwater Unified High School District) has even more to think about. $1.3 million in legal fees and whether or not to pay them.
Next Monday, at the school districts board meeting, the Board will consider whether or not to pay the $1.3 million dollar request for legal fees by several current board members and a past board member for the school district. Basically, the board members are asking the board to pick up the tab for their legal defense in a public corruption case.
The board members are accused by the local district attorney of awarding a $644 million dollar construction contract to a construction company after the board members allegedly received numerous free items including dinners, football and theatre tickets, trips, donations to a child’s scholarship and campaign contributions. Turns out, the DA claims, that the board members failed to report the gifts, which amount to perjury and filing false documents, felonies each carrying a 16 months to 3 years prison terms. And, the DA claims, the board members also used their office for financial gain, “wrongful influence”, a misdemeanor (shouldn’t that be a felony?) carrying a 6 month maximum sentence.
Does the board have to pick up the tab? No. It’s at the Board discretion to deny, approve, pay some, or pay and then deny future requests.
But, if they do agree to pay, the board is required to make the specific findings listed below as cited in California Government Code section 995.8:
A public entity is not required to provide for the defense of a criminal action or proceeding (including a proceeding to remove an officer under Sections 3060 to 3073, inclusive, of the Government Code) brought against an employee or former employee, but a public entity may provide for the defense of a criminal action or proceeding (including a proceeding to remove an officer under Sections 3060 to 3073, inclusive, of the Government Code) brought against an employee or former employee if:
(a) The criminal action or proceeding is brought on account of an act or omission in the scope of his employment as an employee of the public entity; and
(b) The public entity determines that such defense would be in the best interests of the public entity and that the employee or former employee acted, or failed to act, in good faith, without actual malice and in the apparent interests of the public entity.
Aside from the potential conflict of the three current board members possibly voting to approve their own request for legal fees, the board also has to consider whats in the “best interest” of the district. So, I expect the board will get an ear full when the public shows up at the 630pm Monday night board meeting. It is the people’s business after all how their dollars are spent.
Who knows, maybe, “pay for play” is within the board members scope of employment. Clearly, the DA doesn’t think so.
Simply my opinion, what say you?