The Karen Christiansen and Jeffrey Hubbard legal cases have cost Beverly Hills taxpayers more than $1.6 million in legal fees in the last four months, Beverly Hills Unified School District officials revealed this week.
Christiansen, as Patch readers know, is the former BHUSD facilities director who has been ordered to on two counts of misappropriation of public funds and four felony counts of conflict of interest. Former Superintendent Hubbard, who now serves in that same role in the Newport Beach Unified School District, was also ordered to stand trial on two counts of misappropriation of public funds.
The district spent $1,613,915 in legal fees for L.A.-based law firm Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan between Dec. 21 and Feb. 9. Quinn Emanuel, which specializes in business litigation, has represented the district's legal proceedings against Christiansen and Hubbard. The Los Angeles County district attorney filed charges against the duo .
Assistant Superintendent for Business Services Alex Cherniss was grilled about the Quinn Emanuel charges by school board member Myra Lurie at a Wednesday study session. Cherniss was also asked about other legal fees spent in the last year. He confirmed that the district is spending Measure E bond money for Quinn Emanuel.
“As I have repeatedly mentioned in meetings since last year's budget discussions, I believe we are spending far too much on legal fees and I question the oversight of these costs,” Lurie said this week in an e-mail to district officials. “I am renewing my request to review all legal expenditures being charged to both the general and the Measure E bond fund.”
Legal costs associated with the Christiansen and Hubbard cases are being paid from Measure E—the $334 million bond measure passed by voters in 2008—because Christiansen oversaw the early stages of the bond's development, which was sold to voters as a way to pay for the modernization of BHUSD’s aging schools.
Lurie suggested Wednesday that all fees related to the charges against Hubbard instead come from the general fund, as Hubbard left BHUSD two years before the bond vote. Board President Lisa Korbatov disagreed, however, noting that “Hubbard [indirectly] caused Christiansen’s malfeasance because he supervised her.”
Hubbard may have done more than supervise Christiansen; between the two suggest they had an intimate relationship.
Lurie’s exchange with Cherniss also revealed that the district has spent about $85,000 in legal fees from the BHUSD general fund on efforts to persuade the Metropolitan Transportation Authority not to as part of the Westside Subway Extension. Board members Wednesday approved spending to fight the MTA, although they expressed hope that news of a new subway route through Beverly Hills could save the district that money.
Cherniss also noted that the district spent $231,000 in fiscal 2009-10 on Dannis Woliver Kelley (DWK), the firm that worked on issues relating to Measure E before BHUSD hired Quinn Emanuel. The district spent $494,651 on DWK between Nov. 6, 2009, and Jan. 5, 2011, which covers part of the current fiscal year, according to an estimate obtained by Patch. That money also came from Measure E funds. DWK, according to its website, is an education law firm that works exclusively in California.
Some observers find it ironic that Lurie is leading the charge to publicize the high legal fees being spent on the Christiansen case because she was part of the prior board majority that hired Christiansen. The previous board majority also awarded management of the Measure E fund to Strategic Concepts, the consulting company that Christiansen formed after she left BHUSD.
I agree that there are questions concerning Lurie’s past decisions. Still, I applaud her efforts to shine light on the high legal expenses incurred by BHUSD and the fact that those expenses are being paid with Measure E money.
Who in the district chose these law firms and who is reviewing these bills for accuracy? Patch will look into these questions and more in coming weeks.
Editor's Note: When this story originally ran, it stated that the $1.6 million spent in legal fees covered the last three months. The article has been corrected to read that those fees were incurred over four months, and that those fees can be attributed to money spent on both the Christiansen and Hubbard trials.