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Questions about board hiring Thomas Farr

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Questions continue to swirl around the new Wake County school board majority's efforts to hire a prominent Republican attorney to audit the district's legal services.

As noted in today's article by Thomas Goldsmith, former school board chairman Kevin Hill is questioning Thomas Farr's political ties. He was a former GOP nominee for a federal judgeship and a former legal counsel for the state Republican Party.

"I do believe it doesn't look good for the board," Hill said in the article. "He is closely identified with the Republican Party at the state level. His law firm has a minimum amount of experience with school law."

It's fair to note that Wade Smith, a prominent Democrat, is a founding partner of Wake's longtime school board counsel, Tharrington Smith. Smith spoke out in favor of the diversity policy during the fall school board campaign.

But Smith isn't directly involved in the school district's legal work. Farr would be as part of the contract that's still being negotiated by new school board chairman Ron Margiotta.

Hill also criticized the board majority for voting 5-4 to name Farr to the job without establishing his fee for the work.The contract will be discussed as an information item on Tuesday's board agenda.

One of the issues that ha cropped up is whether Farr's firm, Ogletree Deakins has the educational law experience to represent Wake. While it's not on the firm's web site, they listed their educational law background as part of the prospectus they gave Margiotta.

The prospectus notes how the firm has represented school districts in civil rights cases. That could come in handy as Margiotta said in the article that they wanted to bring Farr on board in case the state NAACP makes good on its threat to take legal action against Wake.

Ann Majestic
, the head of Tharrington Smith's educational law section, said the firm could represent Wake if the NAACP sued over resegregation.


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I told y'all so

Can you tell us if their *only* educational law experience is in defending school district's in civil rights cases? I didn't see any other education law experience on the website. I couldn't tell from the blog posting and I think it's pretty significant if so - if it was represented to be "education law experience" but in actuality is defense of civil rights violations suits.
Here's my earlier post, apparently Ron and I think alike!
"Are the new BOE members acting in anticipation of racial discrimination lawsuits ? seems like a smart move to me."


So, remember what he's been retained for -- he's conducting an audit. And, that basically means that he's going to go in, look at what relationships the board has with its existing outside counsel (not just T-S, but every other firm that it does business with) and suggest ways in which the board could either save money or get better service. You don't need somebody with education law credentials to do that.

I suspect the end result is that he'll suggest that the district consolidate its legal work in a smaller number of firms and, possibly, hire its own attorney to handle a lot of the day-to-day work that is currently being outsourced.

Further, there's been no indication that O-D is being considered to replace Tharrington Smith except speculation in the press.

Bob ... given this was one

Bob ... given this was one of Ron's first acts ... are legal fees one of the major challenges facing the school system? 

Legal fees

If anyone thinks that the appointment of the board lawyer isn't due to political allegiance, then you are just delusional.  This goes for what is happening now and what has happened in the past.  While we can all sit back and bemoan the partisan nature of what should be solely an objective, merit based appointment, we must also recognize that the Board needs to fell like they are going to get 100% from the legal team should they need it.  Based on past actions the public statements made by those affiliated with the current council, it isn't exactly outlandish to think the current board doesn't feel like this is the case right now.


I wouldn't put it at the top of my list.  But, board are often frustrated by big legal bills coming in with lots of zeros on them.  Majestic's $175/hr (which, really, is a *very* reasonable rate) is still $350K/year.  While I don't know what the majority's thinking is, I'm not ready to impute some sort of evil intent to it.


"While I don't know what the

"While I don't know what the majority's thinking is, I'm not ready to impute some sort of evil intent to it.” 

I do not think it is "evil" either, just partisan … politicians have favors that need payment ... but I am worried .... that follow-on issues / decisions will be made unilaterally by Ron and rubberstamped by his four lackeys.  

Maybe it is just me

Maybe it is just me, but I think it is a shame that the school board lawyer is such an important position.

Excellent point

Excellent point Rich.  I agree wholeheartedly.  So let's ask the Board to drop this recent resolution.

I am certain there are folks

I am certain there are folks who want this to be dropped just like the effort to improve the quality of education in WCPSS. While the new board must put up with the ramblings of the status quo, the focus on improving education should not be lost.

Drop it?

Dropping the resolution won't change the importance of the lawyer, I am afraid.  My comment wasn't based on what the board is doing as it is on the reality that so much of what they do is a legal maze that requires professional council to navigate.

Ron picked one of his

Ron picked one of his friends as payback for Republican support .... no search, comparison, notice .... what is new ....

Interesting that in the

Interesting that in the prospectus, there is no mention of any partner specializng in education law. It does mention that 2 attorneys have served on their local school boards. But where? In which state? If the firm had a real foot in education law overall, it would be listed on the website, IMO.

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About the blogger

T. Keung Hui covers Wake schools.