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Kent School District legal fees at $21,302 in recall fight

Funds to defend two board members; second and final invoice yet to come

The legal fees to represent two Kent School Board members during a recall effort has cost the Kent School District $21,302 with another bill yet to come.

“For services rendered from May 25 through May 31, Kent School District has been billed by Patterson Buchanan Fobes & Leitch, Inc., P.S. for 104.90 hours at multiple rates totaling $21,302.50,” said Melissa Laramie, district spokesperson, in a June 4 email. “We have not yet received the June invoice.”

Those multiple rates average out to just under $205 per hour.

Bryon Madsen decided to drop his petitions this week to recall Kent School Board members Michele Bettinger and Leslie Hamada. But that came after meetings/consultations between the board members and their Seattle attorney Duncan Fobes. Fobes also met with Madsen.

“Once the recall petition highlighted the issues with the district, I reached out to the attorney for Leslie and Michele,” Madsen said in a June 3 email to the Kent Reporter. “If the law firm was paid on retainer, meaning the district pays the same regardless, I would have continued with the hearing. However, the firm is paid by the hour.

“As such, I asked for a meeting with the attorney, Leslie and Michele. I am comfortable with them representing the parents who voted for them and indirectly to their children.”

Madsen, a Kent resident, filed a petition May 7 to recall four of the five Kent School Board members, but only the petitions against Bettinger and Hamada moved forward because they are not up for reelection. Voters elected Bettinger and Hamada in 2019.

The recalls against Denise Daniels and Maya Vengadasalam were not valid because a petition may not be circulated less than six months before the next general election in which the officer whose recall is demanded is subject to reelection, according to a King County Elections spokesperson. Daniels and Vengadasalam are up for reelection in November, although each decided not to run again.

Madsen alleged that the board had, among other accusations, failed to comply with a large number of board-approved policies, including policy review, duties of board members, meeting conduct, order of business and quorums, evaluation of the superintendent, annual goals and objectives, program compliance, community relations, complaints concerning staff or programs, budget responsibility, fund balance and purchasing and contracting authorization and control.

“As a district, we are glad the recall effort against Directors Michele Bettinger and Leslie Hamada was dismissed, so that all of our board members may now focus on their primary duties and responsibilities,” Laramie said. “We are deeply appreciative for President Denise Daniels’ and Director Maya Vengadasalam’s years of service on the board and in our school community. While they are not seeking reelection, we know they will continue to serve our district well until their term ends and beyond.”

The board met in executive session on May 24 and then voted 3-0 in an open session to approve the district paying the legal fees for Bettinger and Hamada, who did not participate in the vote.

Curtis Leonard, attorney for the Kent School District, told the board that state law allows public funds to be spent to represent public officials during a recall effort. Bettinger and Hamada each asked the district to pay for the legal fees.

“I understand the public might wonder whether it’s appropriate,” Leonard said during the board meeting. “In my legal opinion, the actions alleged are in scope as a director’s role. If someone is sued when doing good faith job, they shouldn’t have to get their own attorney. In those circumstances, an entity can approve (paying legal fees).”

Leonard said as the attorney for the board, he does not represent individual members, which is why the district sought an outside firm. He also told the board that any legal representation would not extend beyond the hearing date with a King County Superior Court judge, which had been scheduled for June 8 to determine whether the recall petition could move forward.

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