Oakland School Dist. overcharged by firm

October 23, 2008 10:24:50 PM PDT
An investigation is underway into hundreds of thousands of dollars the Oakland Unified School District paid to a local law firm. Serious questions are being raised about whether the firm overcharged the cash-strapped district and why school officials failed to notice.

The Oakland School District has paid the Bryant and Brown Law Firm millions in recent years to fight lawsuits and write up legal contracts on its behalf, but now the district wants to know whether it paid $840,000 to the firm and got nothing in return.

"The district certainly doesn't have a lot of extra money so it's disturbing to find these kind of discoveries," said Troy Flint, a Oakland Unified School District spokesman.

Among the discoveries is a billing invoice that shows one lawyer charged the district for 12 hours of work, to the tune of $2,300 on a day when school officials say she actually was home sick.

Other records obtained by ABC7 show the district paid $51,000 for the law firm to draw up a legal contract about garbage collection from schools. However the final product was a document that is virtually identical to one the firm got a few months earlier from the City of Piedmont.

The district says it was overbilled by $51,000 when the firm double, triple, even quadruple billed the district for services.

An attorney representing Bryant and Brown refused an interview request, but in a recent letter sent by the firm to the school district, the firm offered to pay back $23,000, blaming the double billing on a computer glitch.

However, others wonder whether the district should have caught the errors earlier. School board member Noel Gallo first raised concerns about the law firm last year.

"I believe that there's individuals from the very top all the way down that should be held responsible for these actions," said Noel Gallo, on the Oakland School Board.

The district admits its own legal team had little oversight over work performed by the firm.

"It's clear that the protocols were not up to standard," said Flint.

Lynne Wardell is a parent organizer.

"It's systemic. If you really look, there are many, many examples of where the money is not reaching the children," said Lynne Wardell, a parent organizer.

School officials have forwarded the case to the Alameda County District Attorney's Office. The school district says it also is considering filing a legal malpractice claim against the firm.


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