Cutting Them Off: Broward School Board to Stop Paying Legal Bills of Suspended Members

The Broward School Board have decided to no longer pay the legal bills of their members suspended while under investigation. If these members wish to keep fighting their suspension, they may be paying thousands out of their own pockets.

The Board voted unanimously not to pay lawyers for suspended members Ann Murray, Donna Korn, Patti Good, and Lauri Rich Levinson for any services rendered after August 26, the date of their suspension by Governor Ron DeSantis following the scathing Grand Jury report.

The Grand Jury, originally formed to investigate the factors that made the Parkland shooting possible, quickly turned its attention to rampant issues with the management of public funds and accused the members of having “engaged in acts of incompetence and neglect of duty.”

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The suspended members have fought multiple appeals to expunge, keep out, or delay the release of particularly damaging sections of the report. Despite the report being completed in 2021, it was only released recently due to these legal challenges. But now, suspended members will be forced to use their own money to buy more time.

Board chairman Torey Alston, who DeSantis had recently appointed, requested action following the revelation that Murray and Korn had racked up 120,000 in legal bills.

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General Counsel Marylin Batista told the Sun-Sentinel that the Board does not have a duty under state law to support its suspended members financially.

Some on Twitter applauded the move.

 

There has been some pushback. Murray’s lawyer, Pete Patanzo, criticized the Grand Jury for its narrow focus on Broward county, despite their multiple-jurisdiction purpose.

He also told the Sun Sentinel that the Grand Jury should not have named the suspended board members because they had not been indicted. Patanzo worries that this will set a bad precedent of unlimited authority, claiming the Grand Jury report has been “weaponized.” Patanzo, however, did not comment on the Board cutting off of funds.

LGBTQ activist Michael Rajner claimed the removal pushed aside due process at Tuesday’s meeting and implied the Board had political motives.

“I also thing it’s worrisome when you’re targeting board members that were removed by the Governor, and I think this item is vindictive in carrying out political theater for the governor.”

Broward County is the most heavily democratic county in Florida; however, DeSantis removed the board members at the behest of the Grand Jury report, which did not accuse them of any politically relevant wrongdoing, but bureaucratic financial mismanagement.

Board Member Debbi Hixon rebuked Rajner’s characterization, arguing that the Board’s interests are only in fiscal responsibility.

“We should have the back of people that are here, but once they’re not in the position anymore, we don’t have unlimited funds to cover these costs.”


Other stories you may want to read:

Broward Superintendent Orders Administrators to Go on Leave or Resign After Grand Jury Report

Taxpayer Money Used by Ousted Broward School Board Members in Battle to Keep Grand Jury Details Secret

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