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Legal Services Are a Necessary Evil

May 27, 1990

Your paper published a story (Times, May 20) on the amount of legal expenses for the Compton Unified School District over the last four years. To publish the amount of the legal costs in the absence of an examination of the types of legal services received and the number of litigated cases is meaningless, unfair and prejudicial to my law firm and the legal profession. To report on the legal expenses of other school districts without examing their legal transactions over a similar period, is also a meaningless comparison.

The law firm of Melanie E. Lomax & Associates has represented the Compton Unified School District since 1982. During this time, I have witnessed a dramatic increase in the number of contested disciplinary actions and lawsuits. These increases are primarily due to:

1. The 3.5 Certificates of Participation which were issued in 1987 and involved the district in major capital improvement projects, construction activities and major acquisitions;

2. An increase in the number of personal injury lawsuits, and appeals from disciplinary actions;

3. An increase in business litigation, connected with major purchases and insurance difficulties.

It should be noted that there have only been three instances in the last two years where the Compton (Unified School) District has initiated a lawsuit. The vast majority of the lawsuits concern the defense of the district from frivolous claims. Further, we are proud of the remarkable results we have obtained for the district. My law firm has always provided these services at a billable rate far below the going rate for such representation. Prior to my law firm's representation of Compton schools, the district had several law firms performing different functions. My firm's representation has included: business, personnel, purchasing, personal injury, discrimination claims, the defense of litigation, contract matters, and the handling of disciplinary appeals.

A fair share of the responsibility for the increase in the legal costs incurred by this school district must be shared by the employee unions. These employee associations have routinely filed appeals from disciplinary actions, and subsidize litigation for their members, even when their claims are baseless and the district's evidence overwhelming. Last year it cost the district almost $40,000 before it could terminate a teacher who systematically molested third-grade girls.

As long as employees try to obtain from the school board through litigation what they fail to get at the bargaining table and use the law as a political instrument, there will continue to be too much litigation. As long as the school board is required to maintain in excess of $5 million in reserve to cover worker compensation cases filed by its employees, there will continue to be too much litigation in the Compton Unified School District.

Legal services are a necessary evil in all large urban school districts. These services not only cost school districts but also save money by negotiating favorable settlements and by obtaining favorable court decisions. The responsibility for the amount of legal costs in the Compton district, and in most others, must be borne not only by the district's management and it attorneys, but by its employees.

MELANIE LOMAX

Compton Unified School District legal adviser

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