by Max Brantley
The Little Rock School Board voted 4-2 Thursday at a special meeting to hire Chip Welch's law firm to represent the district in the taxpayers lawsuit challenging the buyout of Superintendent Roy Brooks' contract.
Melanie Fox suggested that the district's counsel, the Friday Law Firm, might be better able to represent the district since the firm helped work out the contract. She also said they might be cheaper because of the discount the firm gives on its standard rates to a large client like the district. Chris Heller of the Friday firm responded that it was a relatively simple case with no facts in dispute and noted that numerous superintendent contracts had been bought out around the state.
Board member Michael Daugherty suggested the Friday firm might have a conflict in defending this suit while working with the current superintendent on other lawsuits against the administration. Welch brought up that point, too, in saying that Heller would be a good witness to the fact that the clause allowing the buyout was in the contract at Brooks' suggestion. He noted that federal Judge G. Thomas Eisele had said the buyout seemed a viable option to replace the superintendent, over the summary fring that Brooks had gone to federal court to contest.
Board member Baker Kurrus said it was a mistake to underestimate the lawsuit's chances of success. He said the board shouldn't change its routine policy of turning legal matters over to the Friday firm, from which it gets a good rate for agreeing to take all the district's work. He also contended the lawsuit was only about an illegal exaction, not Brooks. I can't agree with that. It's an action to preserve Brooks' job, using the illegal exaction argument as a pretext. That much couldn't be clearer. Welch noted that the clause being challenged would make the buyout impossible and Heller said the suit also includes words asking for an order to prevent any termination of Brooks' contract.
Kurrus and Fox voted no. Larry Berkeley was absent.