Robinson: Pinellas attorneys work as a team
Pinellas school board attorney Jim Robinson emailed board members yesterday to air his concerns about recent talk of possibly revamping the district's legal structure. Robinson told The Gradebook he had already prepared most of it in anticipation of the July 14 workshop where the issue will be discussed, but said yesterday's Gradebook post prompted him to send it out sooner.
The full email is included below, along with the four attachments Robinson sent with it.
My attention was directed to the Gradebook where I see that four of you commented on the organization and functioning of the Office of General Counsel ("OGC"). Some of Mrs. Cook's comments cause me concern. A response may be necessary.
To assist you in understanding the organizational structure and in preparing for your discussion of the organization of OGC at your workshop on July 14, I am providing you with background information consisting of:
1) Former School Board Attorney John Bowen’s 2005 memorandum to the School Board explaining the organization of the department, before the transition to the Office of General Counsel (“OGC”);
2) The agenda memorandum and attachments from the May 26, 2009, Board meeting with the background and rationale for the transition to the OGC, along with the old and new job descriptions;
3) Mr. Koperski’s memorandum confirming the legality under Florida law of the reporting structure under the OGC; and
4) Rule 4-1.13 of the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar, which sets forth the ethical obligations of lawyers representing organizations such as school boards.
Contrary to what is quoted in the Gradebook post, the Staff Attorney would not give an answer to the Superintendent "separate" from an answer given by the Board Attorney to the School Board. Rule 4-1.13 of the Rules Regulating the Florida Bar governs me, Mr. Koperski and Ms. Dart. In accordance with the rule, as attorneys for a governmental entity (the School District), we represent the entity through its constituents (e.g., the Board, Superintendent, administration and staff). Board Policy 0156 incorporates this ethical obligation in its description of the role of the General Counsel. The Bar rule permits an attorney to also represent a constituent, such as the Superintendent, but such representation is subject to a separate rule governing conflicts of interest.
As explained by Mr. Bowen in his 2005 memo, the Superintendent did not have his "own attorney" under the prior structure. In other words, even if we returned to that structure, Dr. Janssen would not have her "own attorney." The Staff Attorney reported to the Superintendent as one means of satisfying the requirements of due process in quasi-judicial proceedings involving employee and student discipline. The Staff Attorney gave legal advice to the Superintendent and staff consistent with that given by the School Board Attorney. The School Board Attorney was the principal legal advisor to Superintendent Hinesley as a matter of fact, policy, and contract. That is not to say that the Staff Attorney did not serve as a valued advisor. She did. The Staff Attorney and School Board Attorney were a team, just like General Counsel and Associate Counsel. They made up a unified department, just like OGC, the only difference being the reporting arrangement.
As Mr. Koperski’s memorandum confirms, due process in employee and student discipline cases is satisfied under the current structure by designation of Associate Counsel to represent the Superintendent’s position in quasi-judicial proceedings. This is the structure in place in a number of districts including Miami-Dade and Palm Beach.
It is important that you define the purpose of a reorganization since a return to the former structure may not achieve the result that some appear to want. My goal is to protect the Board's best interest. I will assist in whatever way I can to address and resolve the concerns that prompted this request for a workshop discussion.