Saturday, April 20, 2024

114 West Elm Street
Graham, NC 27253
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How much money has ABSS spent in legal fees this year?

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QUESTION: How much has the Alamance-Burlington school system spent this year on legal services, how are they funded, and how many lawsuits are pending against ABSS?

ANSWER: ABSS budgeted a total of $325,000 in county current expense funding for legal services for the 2023-24 fiscal year that began July 1.

As of January 11, ABSS had spent a total of $133,123 on legal services provided by three firms, based on a review of contracted services that ABSS chief finance officer Kim McVey presented to the school board late last month.

For the current 2023-24 fiscal year, ABSS has budgeted and spent the following amounts in county funding for legal services for these firms:

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• Brooks Pierce law firm, Greensboro: $15,000 budgeted; $6,301 spent as of January 11;

• Smith Giles law firm, Graham: $45,000 budgeted; $19,110 spent;

• Tharrington Smith law firm, Raleigh: $265,000 budgeted; $107,712 spent as of January 11.

As McVey told the board two weeks ago, Tharrington Smith is the law firm “on retainer” for the board. Under the contract that the board approved in April 2019, which ran through the end of December 2022, Tharrington-Smith receives $2,250 per month as a retainer to attend eight board meetings and eight school board work sessions per year. (The firm has continued to provide services for ABSS on a month-to-month basis since December 2022, as outlined in the terms of the April 2019 contract.)

The retainer for Tharrington Smith does not cover additional services such as litigation or ongoing consultations with the board, for which there is an additional charge of $210 an hour for partners; $195 per hour for associates; and $110 per hour for paralegal services, all of which are based on a $5 per hour increase for all services that took effect on January 1, 2020.

Robert Giles of the Smith Giles firm in Graham has provided legal services related to the collection of civil fines and forfeitures that flow through the county court system. Giles was to have been paid $140 per hour, plus expenses, based on the contract approved in March 2015.

However, neither the minutes from the school board’s meeting at which the contract was awarded to Giles, nor any other materials presented that night, give any indication of whether the contract had a fixed term.

ABSS officials have confirmed for The Alamance News that the third firm, Brooks Pierce, provides legal representation for personnel-related disputes because state personnel laws require the use of a separate law firm for those matters.

Meanwhile, there are currently two cases pending against ABSS in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina and one suit against the school board pending in the state Court of Appeals.

The two pending federal cases include a lawsuit filed in October 2023 by a former Cummings High School student, Makiya Bradsher, who claims that school officials did nothing to prevent her from being brutally stabbed nine times while at school in October 2022.

The second pending federal case was originally filed in Alamance County superior court by Keisha Banks, a former cabinet-level administrator for ABSS, who claimed she was forced out of her job because she’s black after superintendent Dr. Dain Butler took over in 2022.

That lawsuit was transferred to federal court in December 2023 and remains pending.
Meanwhile, a lawsuit filed in January 2021 on behalf of a minor student, identified in the court file as “K.H.,” by her maternal grandmother, Deborah Claggett of Burlington, was initially dismissed August 18, 2023.

That suit alleged that an unlicensed, now-former Broadview Middle School teacher, identified as Danielle Dixon of 3801 Fig Leaf Court in Greensboro, had violently attacked then-14-year-old “K.H.” in her classroom, grabbing the student by her hair and repeatedly slamming the child to the ground in November 2022, according to the original complaint.

That case was administratively dismissed after none of the parties – the plaintiff, or the defendants, which included Dixon and the school board – appeared for a hearing during an administrative court session on August 18, 2023, based on an order entered by Alamance County senior resident superior court judge Tom Lambeth, Jr.

However, an earlier order signed in April 2023 by Michael L. Robinson, who is indentified as a special superior court judge for complex businesses cases, stated that he had heard arguments in a motion filed by ABSS to dismiss the case in Alamance County superior court and subsequently concluded that the plaintiff hadn’t sufficiently demonstrated that the school board had waived its right of sovereign immunity – meaning that it can’t be held liable for damages.

Robinson’s order dismissed with prejudice – barring it from being re-filed later – all of the alleged claims against the school board, including: failure to prevent the assault and battery by Dixon; negligence in hiring, retention, and supervision; negligent infliction of emotional distress; and a violation of K.H.’s state constitutional right to a sound basic education, free of verbal abuse, physical abuse, hostility, and harassment, as alleged in the suit that was filed in January 2023.

The plaintiff’s attorney, Jeff McMillion of Graham, subsequently filed a notice of appeal, asserting that Robinson had erred in granting the school board’s motion to dismiss based on its claim of immunity and the judge’s conclusion that the plaintiff had failed to allege sufficient facts “giving rise to a constitutional violation.”

McMillion subsequently filed an appeal in the state Court of Appeals on November 25, 2023, where the case is currently pending.

The Alamance News was told on February 1 that a new complaint, pertaining to alleged age discrimination in hiring decisions, is pending with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. No formal court action related to that matter had been filed against ABSS by press time.


THE PUBLIC ASKS: Have a question about a matter of public record? Call The Alamance News at (336) 228-7851; write to the newspaper at P.O. Box 431, Graham, NC 27253; or e-mail alamancenews@mail.com.

If it’s a topic in the public domain — a matter of public record, including issues of government, courts, etc. — we’ll try to find the answer and print it in ‘The Public Asks’ column. (Please furnish as much complete and specific information as possible.)

Note: Issues regarding businesses — including salaries, policies, and practices — are usually not matters of public record, unless they are the subject of governmental or regulatory action, a court suit, or law enforcement activity.

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