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District Ends Legal Battle Over Belmont

Schools: L.A. Unified accepts $3-million settlement from its former lawyers.

April 10, 2002|DUKE HELFAND | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Los Angeles Unified School District on Tuesday ended a legal battle with its former lawyers over the Belmont Learning Complex, accepting $3 million in exchange for an agreement not to pursue further litigation.

The decision by the Board of Education closes a three-year saga that pitted the school district against one of Los Angeles' oldest and most prestigious law firms.

L.A. Unified sued O'Melveny & Myers in 1999 for allegedly ignoring conflicts of interest and giving poor advice on the project near downtown. That advice included a recommendation that a full environmental impact study was not needed at the site, an abandoned oil field that contains potentially dangerous gases.

In January, the district lost the case. A Los Angeles Superior Court judge said that some of its allegations were unfounded and others could not be proved.

The school board voted to accept the settlement Tuesday rather than appeal. About $900,000 of the $3 million will go to pay the district's own legal bills. The remainder will go toward construction of Belmont, a half-finished high school that has cost the school district about $175 million. A coalition of Latino community leaders and school builders has been selected to finish the campus.

"The district and the law firm both decided that the cost and uncertainty of future litigation made this settlement reasonable," said Hal Kwalwasser, the district's general counsel.

The settlement also frees the school district from having to reimburse $700,000 to O'Melveny & Myers for its litigation costs.

"We're very pleased the matter has been brought to an end," said Bob Willett, vice chairman of the firm.

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