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Education and Schools Experience

Education and Schools Experience

We have represented school districts on a multitude of matters ranging from successfully defending districts in personnel matters with damage claims against the district of $3 million, to daily advice on issues including public records, open meeting law, personnel, student discipline and breach of contract disputes. We have been successful in dismissing claims at the motion to dismiss and summary judgment stages in matters where plaintiffs seek millions in damages. Here are a few examples of our track record on behalf of school districts:

  • Arizona Supreme Court Victory on Case of Statewide Importance: On February 26, 2007, Mary Ellen Simonson won an appeal to the Arizona Supreme Court on behalf of Deer Valley Unified School District on an issue affecting all public schools and public bodies in Arizona in a case involving a wrongful termination lawsuit against the district. The issue on appeal was whether a notice of claim is defective if it fails to expressly state a “specific amount” for which a claim can be settled, and facts supporting that amount. The Court agreed with our position and ordered the trial court to dismiss the employee’s wrongful termination lawsuit because the claim was defective at the outset and the time period had passed to file a new claim. Joining as amicus in the case was the Arizona School Boards Association, among others.
  • Contract Dispute: In 1999, Document Technologies filed a multiple-count complaint in Maricopa County Superior Court against a District and individual Governing Board members alleging they had violated procurement laws and regulations by awarding a contract to their competitor, IKON Office Solutions, for district-wide copier services. Doc Tech claimed that a contract entered into with IKON under a cooperative purchasing agreement was a violation of state procurement law. Doc Tech’s demand to settle the case was $2.6 million. Lewis and Roca assumed representation of the District on this case after the former District counsel had incurred almost $70,000 in fees without formal discovery or motions. After we assumed representation, we immediately analyzed the weaknesses of plaintiff’s claims and attempted to settle the case to avoid further expense on both sides. When Doc Tech refused and increased their monetary demand, we filed and won motions for summary judgment on three claims, persuaded plaintiff’s counsel to drop several other claims, and ultimately convinced the Court to dismiss the entire case. The Court awarded the District the portion of its attorneys’ fees and costs we requested. Doc Tech then settled the case for no money amount, a full release of all claims and no appeal, and dismissal with prejudice of the complaint in exchange for the District foregoing it entitlement to fees and costs.
  • Employment Dispute: A former employee of a school district filed a complaint in Maricopa County Superior Court alleging claims for defamation and false light invasion of privacy, seeking general and punitive damages. The employee also sued a board member individually. The plaintiff demanded that the District pay him $3 million. We successfully filed a motion to dismiss all claims in January 2001, including dismissal against the board member. Employee then filed an amended complaint adding a new claim for alleged breach of contract. Employee ultimately settled with the District paying no money, obtaining a full release of all claims, and dismissal with prejudice of the complaint.
  • Teacher Termination: We successfully defended a school district in a high-profile matter involving a teacher who punched a student in the face over a traffic altercation. The teacher elected to have a public hearing on the matter despite the fact that the district offered her the opportunity to resign in lieu of termination proceedings. She declined and we drafted a statement of charges, which the Board adopted. She appealed and we prevailed at an administrative hearing. She was terminated and did not file a lawsuit, presumably based on the strength of the record made in the administrative hearing process.
  • Student Discipline: Student, through his father, sued a school district in both state and federal court for disciplinary action taken against him, resulting in expulsion. Student claimed he was deprived of due process. The settlement agreement, which resulted in no liability to the District and no payout to the family, was signed by Student’s parents and approved by the Governing Board.
  • Constitutional Claims: We won summary judgment in U.S. District Court on a First Amendment lawsuit in which plaintiff sought sizable damages against a District. He claimed his business was ruined by the District’s allegedly unconstitutional refusal to allow its teachers to distribute his company’s brochures that included proselytizing religious content advertising his summer school bible studies programs. This case involved issues on the cutting edge of the Constitutional principles of freedom of speech and separation of church and state. The decision from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled partly in favor of the District, precluding any proselytizing religious speech in such brochures.

School Law Issues - significant because they address issues that are common to all school districts

  • We have represented the Arizona School Boards Association in filing an Amicus Brief on behalf of the plaintiffs-appellants in the Roosevelt Elementary School District Number 66 v. Bishop case. As you may know, in that case the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that the current school finance scheme itself creates substantial disparities between school districts and, therefore, violates the Arizona Constitution’s requirement that state funding of public schools be “general and uniform.”
  • We represented ASBA again in an emergency motion for clarification after the Court’s Opinion was issued on July 21, 1994. The Opinion caused bond counsel for certain districts to refuse to issue the requisite unqualified opinions without clarification from the Court as to the enforceability and validity of bond obligations to be incurred under the existing statutes. Without these opinions, municipal investment bankers would not underwrite school improvement bonds. As an immediate consequence, at least seven school districts would not have been able to complete bond sales that were pending when the Court’s decision was rendered. Two of those school districts had entered into contracts that required payments from bond proceeds within 60 days from the date of the decision. We sought immediate relief, and the Court ruled within 48 hours granting the relief ASBA requested.
  • We represented the National School Board Association, the National Parent-Teacher Association, and more than a dozen other public education advocacy organizations in filing an amicus curiae brief with the United States Supreme Court in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, in which the Court considered the constitutionality of school voucher programs. The NSBA solicited Lewis and Roca to prepare this important brief because of the unique, combined strength of our education and appellate practice groups.
  • We represented Phoenix Elementary School District in its successful effort at the trial and appellate court levels to maintain a mandatory school uniform policy in one of its middle schools. Following months of dispute and a trial adverse to the Arizona Civil Liberties Union and its counsel and student clients, the trial court ruled that the dress code was constitutional and upheld the school’s right to involuntarily transfer students who refused to wear the uniform. The ruling was the first of its kind in the nation and was upheld on appeal to the Arizona Supreme Court.
  • We successfully defended a district in a contract/vendor action in which we recovered, through partial settlement, approximately $1,000,000.00 for the District. The case involved a contractor who sued the District for approximately $500,000.00. We counterclaimed for defective work seeking the recovery we ultimately received through a successful motion for summary judgment. A disputed amount, separate and apart from the recovery, was appealed.

Personnel work on behalf of school districts:

  • We have represented a district in an employee dispute for which we developed a defense strategy and plan to attempt dismissal of the matter at an early stage.
  • We have routinely represented districts on the full range of employee issues, including negotiated resolution of employee disputes, advice on FMLA and ADA technical issues, personnel records, workplace harassment, investigations of employee misconduct, employee discipline and termination.
  • We routinely represent districts on numerous employment disputes ranging from negotiated issues to defense in lawsuits to handling administrative hearings regarding teacher termination proceedings. We have had successful outcomes in all of the termination hearings in which we have represented school districts, many of which have been complicated and high-profile.
  • We successfully defended a district in a high-profile matter regarding a teacher who punched a student in the face during a traffic altercation. The teacher chose to have a public hearing on the matter even though she was given an opportunity to resign in lieu of termination proceedings. She declined that opportunity to resolve the matter. We handled the Statement of Charges, public hearing and appeal to the Governing Board. We prevailed at all levels and the teacher did not pursue litigation, presumably based on the strength of the record below.
  • We conducted an investigation for a district into the propriety of a high school principal’s conduct in a high-profile matter that involved oversight or the lack of it over a teacher later convicted of child abuse. After forwarding the recommendation to the board, the principal resigned. We successfully negotiated the terms and conditions of the principal’s resignation, in lieu of termination proceedings, which would have been costly and time-consuming for the district. We also handled the termination of a teacher arising out of the same episode.
  • We represented a district and investigated allegations that an employee sexually harassed others. After forwarding our recommendation on to the district, we successfully negotiated the terms and conditions for the employee’s resignation, in lieu of termination proceedings.
  • We successfully represented a district in negotiating the terms and conditions for resignation of a certified employee, in lieu of termination proceedings. This employee had filed several EEOC charges, which the employee agreed to dismiss with prejudice. The hearing, and pending litigation, would have been costly and time-consuming.
  • We have assisted districts in negotiating mutually-agreed upon resignations of high-profile certified employees, thereby avoiding costly and disruptive public hearing process.
  • We have represented several districts in teacher dismissals where teachers threatened hearings and litigation but we negotiated successful voluntary departures, which was a significant savings of time and cost to the district.
  • We have represented school districts in a multitude of EEOC matters.
  • We recently represented a district in a teacher termination hearing where the opposing counsel was extremely aggressive and attempted to delay the administrative process with last-minute “emergency” court actions in state and federal court. We prevailed in those actions and at a two-day administrative hearing before a hearing officer, who recommended dismissal of the teacher. The Board upheld the recommendation.
  • We regularly advise and work with community colleges on personnel procedures.
  • We have provided advice on matters involving possible civil-criminal exposure relating to personnel issues.
  • We represented school district clients before governmental agencies.
  • We prepared school district employees who were being interviewed and/or deposed in pending litigation. These were cases where neither the school district nor the employee were parties, but where it was felt professional preparation was necessary to protect the interests of both the teacher and the district, as well as the student.
  • We researched and drafted numerous opinion letters dealing with subjects such as teacher tenure, the allocation of special education costs, and the application of new statutes to existing circumstances.
  • We drafted or assisted management personnel in preparing employment policies and handbooks for many cities and towns.
  • We represented school district clients on various court actions in employment matters.
  • We defended an administrative complaint against a district for failing to find appropriate alternative employment for a handicapped teacher. The teacher was a PE teacher and suffered from nasal allergies. We defended the matter on grounds that the “Act” did not cover such “handicaps” and that the teacher quit before the district was given an opportunity to find alternative employment.

School District Bond Counsel Experience. We have extensive experience in providing advice to school districts and their governing boards. In addition to serving as bond counsel for the recent M&O override election for a district, the firm has provided legal services for school district financings and refunding structures for several school districts: We have been involved in nearly every aspect of school district representation.

  • We served as counsel on a district’s successful March 11, 2003 override election.
  • We served as bond counsel on a district’s $37,115,000 Refunding Bonds, Series 2002 (closed on May 14, 2002) that resulted in present value savings to the district in the amount of $1,806,650.
  • We served as bond counsel on a district’s $68,585,000 Refunding Bonds, Series 2003A (closed on January 23, 2003) that resulted in present value savings to the District in the amount of $1,435,382.
  • We served as bond counsel on a district’s $57,740,000 Refunding Bonds, Series 2003B.
  • We served as bond counsel on a restructuring of a district’s escrow fund for its Series 2003A Refunding Bonds.
  • We served as counsel on a district’s November 2001 bond/override election.
  • We served as bond counsel on a district’s $3,500,000 Refunding Bonds, Series 2004.
  • We served as bond counsel on a district’s $64,980,000 Refunding Bonds, Series 2002.
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