LAFAYETTE — The Lafayette Parish School Board owes nearly $90,000 for legal services related to its investigation of former Superintendent Pat Cooper, his litigation against the School Board and the employment hearing that led to his termination.
The amount is nearly half the board’s $183,000 legal services budget for 2014-15. The board also paid more than $13,000 earlier this month for another lawyer’s work representing individual board members named in Cooper’s lawsuit.
The board hired Baton Rouge attorney Dennis Blunt, of Phelps Dunbar, in May to conduct the investigation. Two separate invoices, both dated Dec. 4, total $89,530.95 and include services by Blunt, at least five other lawyers and legal staff conducted between May and October. The Acadiana Advocate requested the invoices and received and reviewed them Tuesday.
One invoice for $63,944.64 is related to the Cooper investigation and employment hearing, and another for $25,586.31 is for work on the civil injunction Cooper filed against the board to stop implementation of the 2014-15 budget and to disqualify three board members from voting in his employment hearing.
The board hired Blunt as special counsel at its May 7 board meeting. Blunt started billing the board two days before, on May 5, when he conducted fewer than two hours of work researching and reviewing “various news articles in connection with investigation” and also for an “extended telephone conference” with Bob Hammonds, the board’s general counsel, “regarding background facts and meetings with board members.”
Blunt’s rate is $175 an hour, the limit set by the Attorney General’s Office for lawyers with 10 years or more experience. Two other lawyers who billed at $175 an hour also worked for the School Board, as well as two lawyers who billed at $125 an hour, the allowable rate for a lawyer with three to five years’ experience. One lawyer with less than three years’ experience also conducted some work on the Cooper issue, billing at $100 an hour.
Time spent specific to the investigation of Cooper and preparation for the Aug. 28 meeting when Blunt presented his findings to the board cost the board $55,299, based on time billed between May 5 and Aug. 28.
Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.