P-Card Firm Quietly Hired To Fight Blamed Employee
May Raise Conflict-of-Interest Issues and Question Impartiality of Report
Dallas.Org has learned that Fish & Richardson, the firm paid almost $1 million dollars by DISD to investigate possible credit card abuse, was quietly hired around March of this year to represent DISD against former credit card manager Sherri Brokaw--about whom their report was critical.
The firm's final report, released last week, targeted Brokaw for failures in several areas of the system, and called into question her relationship with other employees.
Dallas.Org has been unable to confirm that this new relationship between Fish & Richardson and DISD has ever been publicly detailed--though their February and March invoices reflected time billed for an "employment lawsuit."
It may also call into question the firm's ability to remain impartial to employees in its report, since the firm is representing DISD against employees who file suit against the District over the investigation--and presumably getting paid by the District to do so.
The document, a "motion to dismiss" Brokaw's lawsuit, was signed by Fish & Richardson attorneys Steven E. Fox and Elizabeth M. Bedell. Bedell is reflected, on PACER, to be the "lead attorney."
Brokaw's attorney, James Murphy, subsequently filed a "motion to disqualify" the Fish & Richardson firm as lawyers for the District on April 4 citing the conflicting relationship between the firm, which may have uncovered facts relevant to Brokaw's case, and it's new role as DISD's defender.
In a lawsuit, a person with knowledge of the facts disputed in the suit is known as a "fact witness." Murphy's document objects to DISD being represented by a "fact witness."
"During the course of the factual investigation on behalf of DISD," Murphy noted, "[Fish & Richardson] through its attorneys have interviewed may witnesses including [Brokaw] and other DISD employees, and they have collected many documents in connection with the credit card issue. As such, [Brokaw] alleges that [Fish & Richardson], and its attorneys and investigators, are material fact witnesses."
A logical following question might be: since Fish & Richardson were (are) representing the District against Brokaw, did this relationship play a factor in the firm's ability to adequately critique Brokaw's performance in their report to the District?
On April 25, Fish & Richardson attorney Fox filed a document challenging Murphy's motion to disqualify the firm.
Fox wrote that the "individual lawyers at [Fish & Richardson] (Stephen Fox and Elizabeth Bedell) who represent the Defendants' in this case have not been personally involved in the p-card investigation at DISD [...]"
But that may not be entirely accurate.
Records of bills obtained from DISD through the Texas Public Information Act indicate that Bedell (or "EMB") billed the District a total of 16.3 hours starting as early as July 21, 2006--well before Brokaw filed her lawsuit the following January.
Billing records clearly show Bedell "conferring" with (and billing for her conference with) fellow attorney Madeleine Johnson, who was involved in the investigation.
It should be noted that, because the District redacted details, it cannot be determined what the topic of conversation was between Johnson and Bedell, however, the billing appeared on the firm's September 26, 2006 invoice.
All hours billed on that invoice were credited to the "Internal Investigation."