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SCUSD’s Outside Law Firm Lozano Smith Has Conflict of Interest Issue

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Controversy continues to follow Lozano Smith, the SCUSD outside law firm.

On October 1, 2020, SCTA wrote to SCUSD school board president Jessie Ryan about a potential conflict of interest issue involving the SCUSD outside law firm, Lozano Smith.

Jerome Behrens, the Lozano Smith partner who advises Ryan and other school board members on legal, ethical and parliamentary issues, is on the board of directors (click here and here) of an organization, the Center for Fathers and Families, which has signed contracts valued over one million dollars with the District.

In 2019-20, the District had two contracts with the Center for Fathers and Families: one for $507,788.24 and the other for $39,330, totaling $547,118.24. On October 1, 2020, the school board was set to approve another contract with the Center for Fathers and Families for the 2020-21 school year for the exact same amount as the first contract, $507,788.24. The District did not disclose the criteria that was used to award the contract or how the amount for the contract determined.

Without directly responding to our letter, the school board appears to have reacted by pulling the contract from its consent agenda on October 1 along with several others related to youth development for “further review.” Board President Ryan has not responded directly to our letter.

This is not the first controversy in SCUSD involving Lozano Smith. In 2018, a California appellate court ruled that SCUSD had to pay more than $500,000 for the cost of SCTA’s attorneys. The ruling followed a loss by SCUSD. The District, based on advice from Lozano Smith, then contested the amount of attorney fees that would have to be paid to SCTA’s attorneys. After knowing it had already lost the original case and been ordered to pay attorney fees, the District then spent an estimated $1.5 million unsuccessfuly fighting to save approximately $250,000 on attorney fees. The court ruled against SCUSD on that too.

More recently, Lozano Smith received between $2 and $5 million in the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program related to coronavirus. At the same time, SCUSD has paid Lozano Smith at least $143,000 out of its COVID relief funds for “labor negotiations.”

Additionally, recently disclosed documents from the District shows the exhorbitant fees that Lozano Smith charges. In one instance, Lozano Smith billed SCUSD $218,028.25 to represent the District on a grievance issue that was settled even before the issue was heard before an arbitrator.

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