Board will review its attorney contract
By Jim Butler
The St. Landry Parish School Board, a $130 million-a-year operation, paid its attorney - Gerard Caswell of Eunice - about $99,000 last year.
President John Miller thinks that may be too much and that the board should seek applicants for the job.
A lawyer is paid for years of training and experience as well as expenses and office overhead. Some legal industry estimates are that 50 percent of fees go to that overhead.
Anyone interested in the post will have to get up to speed quickly on school desegregation law and precedent, particulars of the St. Landry case, Green Factors, Singleton rules and other such things as the system continues to try to get from under the thumb of the federal judiciary.
Actually, the board is back in court on Monday for an 11 a.m. hearing.
Caswell, board attorney since 1996, told Miller and the Executive Committee on Monday that he is paid $2,500 monthly in the way of a retainer that covers such things as being at board meetings, being on call to board members, board staff and school administrators for the myriad of legal questions they have. That is $30,000 in a calendar year.
Additionally, Caswell is paid a negotiated rate of $125 hourly for legal action initiated by the board or for defending it against litigation initiated against it. That amounted to $28,037.50 in 2007.
Caswell also handles suits filed in pursuit of delinquent or never-paid sales tax. Those fees amounted to $41,084.53 in 2007.
It was pointed out at Monday’s meeting that the parish realized revenues of at least that much as a result of the successful sales tax suits.
Legal expenses of the board include such expenses as depositions, court reporter fees, and other costs associated with litigation.
Caswell’s contract with the board is self-renewing each July 1. It can be terminated by either party at any time with 60 days’ notice.
Absence of any regular review of the contract by the board sticks in Miller’s craw.
“As a board we need to review the contracts, bills and rates of all providers, not just the attorney,” he said, adding getting details of Caswell’s arrangements and payments has been difficult for him.
“Not from me it hasn’t. This is the first time asked from me and I brought it today,” Caswell said. He added at one point, “I am offended that you seem to be questioning my integrity.”
He noted that his contract, his bills and any payments to him are public record.
Figures Miller had and figures Caswell provided differed.
That seemed to be because Miller was working with fiscal year (July 1-June 30) and Caswell had calendar year (tax year 2007, Jan. -Dec. 31.).
The committee decided to send the subject of legal services for the coming year to the full board for discussion at its May 1 meeting.
Board member Scott Richard, who is not a committee member, noted that the information relative to Caswell’s contract and remuneration had been provided previously to the full board, at its request, by Caswell, as had a litigation study report.
Caswell, who began practiceing law in 1983, handled School Board business while an assistant district attorney in the early 1990’s.
When he left the DA’s office, the board retained him as its counsel.
Caswell’s practice includes a speciality in public entity representation.
He is also attorney for the Acadia Parish School Board, St. Landry Parish Hospital Service District No. 1 and several gravity drainage districts.