by Max Brantley
I mentioned earlier that a report on Little Rock School District legal fees was on the agenda for Saturday's School Board retreat. I got that spread sheet today. It's worth mentioning because of the occasional dialogue we have had here about civil rights lawyer John Walker, the lead attorney for the Joshua intervenors. The intervenors represent black families in the eternal desegregation litigation.
Walker's critics often say his role in the case is only about money. I've said just as frequently that I don't see it that way. I think the numbers support my point of view.
In the last 25 years, LRSD has spent $11.3 million in desegregation related legal fees (and $16 million for all legal costs). The Friday Law Firm accounted for $3.35 million in desegregation spending; the Joshua intervenors for $2.99 million; Pulliam, Kaplan, Hollingsworth and Brewer for $1.28 million; Office of Desegregation Monitoring $2.73 million, among others.
But this is worth noting: From 1982 until 1991, Walker and related lawyers didn't receive a penny from the school district, though they had long been working in the interest of black kids. In 1991, they received $2 million as part of the historic "settlement" of the case approved by the legislature and related parties. The next two years, Walker and related lawyers received nothing.. He got $3,291 in 1994. The next two years nothing. Then $15,032 in 1996-97; $205,000 in 97-98; $616,111 in 98-99 (when the original settlement was reworked in federal court); then $48,333 in 1999-2000; $32,222 in 2000-01; $28,194 in 2001-02; $12,083 in 2002-03. Since then, nothing. By comparison the last four years, while Walker's group was receiving nothing, the Friday firm received about $263,000.
John Walker has been paid pursuant to court orders as part of the settlement of lawsuits over the school district's unconstitutional treatment of black children. In 14 of the last 26 years, including the last four, he's received exactly zero from the LRSD for his work. By contrast, the Friday firm hasn't missed an annual payroll since it returned as the district's lawyer in 1988. (Nor should it have missed one, I might add.)
I've always thought questioning John Walker's motives is non-productive. It's about kids, not him. Plus, complaining won't remove him as a factor in the equation. But when this tactic is reduced to an accusation against him of money-grubbing, it's also not supported by the record.
PS -- Large as these legal fee numbers seem to be, they are a tiny percentage of a district with a budget in the $300 million range. In the last fiscal year, total legal fees of all sorts were $358,000, $232,564, maybe less than a tenth of one percent of district spending. The greater cost is the time and effort expended by district employees in responding to litigation demands.