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.

According to records obtained from the Federal Court's "PACER " database, Brokaw filed suit against DISD on January 7, 2007 .

Fish & Richardson filed its first document in Brokaw's federal lawsuit against DISD on March 12, 2007.

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.

Bedell Billing Record

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."

DEVELOPING

Fine Judge Kinkeade...

I see that just yesterday, the fine Judge Kinkeade, well-trained in our Texas state court system, issued a one-line denial of the motion to disqualify.

Apparently, his now-multiple-years on the federal bench have not taught him that federal judges explain what they do.

Rather, he's relying on the state "judge school" lesson that the less you explain your reasoning, the harder it is to reverse you.

Ugh.

Please Don't Bash Judge Kinkeade

I represent Sherri Brokaw in this matter, to which you refer. I have known, and I have had the privilege of serving as a lawyer before, Judge Kinkeade for many years.

I am the attorney who filed the motion to disqualify Fish & Richardson. While the Judge denied the motion without further explanation, this matter is not settled in my mind. The motion was filed before the final Fish & Richardson report to the Board of Trustees was submitted on May 10, 2007. The motion was filed before we had further information that warrants disqualification.

While I do not always agree with court decisions, I respect the judicial authority with which these decisions are made.

Please do not deride Judge Kinkeade, a fine jurist, both State and Federal. I am sure the final outcome of this matter will result in the fair result.

Interesting Invoices

As an employment defense lawyer, I find these invoices fascinating. Fascinating because, among other things, they don't include the hourly rate for the timekeepers or show the total billed for each day's particular tasks. This is quite unusual, and seems especially so when the client is a public entity paying one's fees with taxpayer money. None of my clients, which are large national, publicly traded companies, would accept a bill like this.

Also, any employment defense lawyer worth his/her salt knows that you don't conduct an investigation like this one, which involves interviewing the very person who later sues, and then expect to defend the company against that person. The "I didn't personally interview her--it was someone else in my firm" defense is insulting, even if it was true.

Ridiculous.

[Ed Note: But you have to commend them on their sales job! After all, when you practice law, you're a salesperson for your profession. A $1M take isn't bad for less than a year's work!]

Credit Card Theft

I am so frustrated and angry, to put it mildly. Teachers and other school employees stole money that should have gone to educate kids.

The powers that be have put a very few people on the chopping block and now hope that we will forgive and forget.

I won't forgive and not forget. I will not support any new bond issues for Dallas ISD and will urge the Dallas Morning News to keep this in the paper until we get all the money returned or see many people in Jail.

What kind of a message does this send to our kids. It is OK to steal and then say it was a misunderstanding of the rules.

This is so wrong.

Re: Credit Card Theft

I understand your frustration, however, there is an assumption inferred in your comment that all the school employees who had a card stole money from kids.

Now grant it the amount that was investigated I believe was too small to gain a true inference about all the cardholders, but I don't believe that all the employees took money from the kids.

I think some more data should be looked at before any assumptions can be made.

I will urge you to forgive because the only person that is being hurt by not forgiving is you because most of the people don't know it and the rest don't care.

We shouldn't forget our mistakes, but learn from them so that the people behind us don't make the same mistake.

Support the bond issue because it does support the needs of our kids. If we stop supporting, then the kids will have no one.

Again, I say I understand your frustration, but let's not let frustration blind our sight on the bigger prize and that is to move our kids forward to be productive citizens.

Just a thought!

[Ed Note: You have a very good point--and that is that there were some who (to paraphrase the Fish/Rich report) were very good stewards of the public's money. That being said, there is no way I could see the public voting for a bond package until the entire issue has been investigated--not just a small portion.]

Forgive vs Forget

Let's clarify something here. The money that paid the bills for the credit card charges was meant for the education of children. Whether it was for books, juice, posters or copier paper, all items that help in the educational process is a valid item to be purchased. Gold-plated eating utensils, dating club memberships and plasma tv's are not helpful.

Forgiveness? Whoa, hold on a minute. MANY, I say again, MANY Dallas ISD teachers are furious that more arrests and indictments are not forthcoming, since it puts a cloud over their heads.

Dallas Achieves, DISD Big Cheeses and anyone else who reads this site (and they do!), I warn you, if you do not totally clean house on this, NO NEW BOND ISSUE will pass!

Fellow citizens of Dallas, if DISD shows up on your property bill, then go to the DISD's next school board on Thursday. Call the main number, 972-925-3700, and ask for the Board of Trustees Office. Tell them that you want to sign up to speak next Thursday night--but you have to do it by Wednesday.

Or, come to the meeting and bring a letter you can hand your Trustee after the meeting adjourns. Do it fast though, as some like to shimmy away fast, so as not to speak to the public.

If you don't speak up, silence is consent.

Nobody deserves forgiveness until they are contrite. We should not forget, or our tax dollars will be misused again.

DISD

Well, thank you! I'm glad to see someone else who is angered by the "let's forgive and forget" routine! Unfortunately, I don't live in Dallas and probably can't be heard at the next school board meeting, but I am a DISD teacher! Even as this school year ends - we have not received the few supplies we ordered for our kids and classes back in September!!! Wonder where that money went? Oh that's right - several district auditors came to our school several months ago and were supposedly checking out "missing funds" - maybe the funds that were supposed to buy our supplies??? I never heard any results of their audit but no one lost their job at our school but we still didn't get our supplies ordered! The missing funds went somewhere!!! Forgive - I don't think so. Teachers are held accountable for their students, failures, etc. Credit card users should be held accountable too!

Bond issues

I am a teacher too and cringe at the idea of the fiasco that passing a new bond issue will entail.

I am furious when I see our brand new wing with fancy In-Focus machines but walk into the old part of the building with dripping pipes in the bathrooms, doors falling off and ceiling tiles falling down in the classrooms.

I hate seeing the new carpet in the front office and the lovely new wood shelves in the air conditioned principal's office while the air conditioner no longer works in the rest of the building and I have to teach my class in the auditorium because the classrooms are too hot.

We make the school look fancy for the ground breaking ceremony but the building is filthy and decaying in the parts that aren't showcased.

I want money to fix our schools but I hate that we can't manage it correctly and wisely.

I know the new focus this week is the newly created "Learning Communities" and "goal focusing" but the district is building on top of a refuse pile of mismanagement and ignoring major issues.

I fear that until major changes are made, then Dallas ISD will continue to grab the headlines with scandals.

Re: Forgive vs. Forget

So no one wants to see a new bond pass.

Okay I get it.

But let me ask a question or two for you to ponder on your way home in traffic; "What if my parents didn't forgive me for my mistakes that I made growing up, what if my children didn't forgive me for all the mistakes I have made and didn't confess to or get caught for?

What if that police officer that stopped me for speeding didn't forgive me and let me go?

I still believe we need to forgive to move forward. Do I believe that more people should be brought to justice? I sure do.

I feel that same way about sex offenders and drug dealers.

Will I give more money to the police to aid them in this effort? Sure I will.

Do I believe that the investigation cost too much for the result we got as citizens? Sure do.

I feel the same way about the cost of gas. Will I buy that gas when I know it costs too much? Sure will.

One thing that I know for sure is that no matter what you do as a leader, you will never be able to please everyone, including frustrated citizens.

One thing I know for sure, with a district this size there will always be controversy.

Teachers are frustrated, parents are frustrated, administrators are frustrated, leaders are frustrated everyone and their mother is frustrated.

Let's show our children that we can behave and react as mature adults and move forward because our focus should be on them.

All it takes is one act of forgiveness.

[Ed Note: One thought: in order to "forgive and forget" one needs something to "forgive and forget." Since the irresponsible activities are still continuing, perhaps we should be asking if there is anything to forgive and forget--yet?

I hope no one at DISD is considering a bond proposal this year--because current administration may not have the management skills to handle it. It goes back to the "throw money" theory: "if we throw enough money at a problem it will go away."

History has proven that it's not how much you spend, rather, how you spend it. Perhaps we should look at how past monies have been handled before we consider taking more away from citizens. Thoughts?]

Bond issues past

To the teacher above who just workd in DISD: go to the meeting, too! Teachers are just one of the few groups who can actually sound off to their bosses in a public forum!

As for "moving forward," the other commenter above just doesn't get it. Instead of "forgive and forget," use the axiom, "Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on ME!"

You cannot move on until the problems are addressed, completely and sincerely. That is the point. Stop with the platitudes about forgiving children... huh? These are adults who committed fraud.

Past bond issues have done great and wonderful things. The last bond issue, passed under Dr. Moses, is coming to fruition now. Schools are getting new wings, new roofs, old portables are giong away. However, there probably was waste and abuse there as well.

New schools are opening this fall. To the taxpayers: THANK YOU! But again, be vigilant of your money! Come to the meeting!

[Ed Note: Well put.]