Thursday, September 15, 2016


With former School Board Attorney Phil Stern leaving the district last month -- the latest in a long list of administrators and top staffers to depart -- it ends at least 10 years of in-house counsel.

Now the district has no full-time attorney, which is actually common for governing bodies with most retaining an attorney from a local law firm who is paid per hour for appearances at meetings and other legal work.

The Maplewood Township Committee, for example, has used Roger Desiderio for years. But he does not work as a Township employee. He is a partner in the West Orange law firm of Bendit Weinstock.

Stern was the exception, not the rule.

As the board's next meeting approaches on Monday, it has yet to decide if it will replace Stern or switch to a retainer use of a law firm.

Stern was paid $152,000 per year when he departed.

District Business Administrator Paul Roth said the district will use an attorney for the next meeting from the law firm of Schenck, Price, Smith & King of Florham Park, which was retained in May at a rate of $170 per hour for legal work and $125 for paralegals. 

That firm has also been working with the district on its harassment, intimidation and bullying (HIB) issues, including a lawsuit by a former CHS baseball student that has already led to the decision not to reappoint baseball coach Joe Fischetti.

"We are using their services in the absence of in-house legal counsel until decisions are made regarding re-hiring or contracting services," Roth said via email.

A posting at the School Superintendents Association looks at the pros and cons of in-house counsel.

It states, in part: 

A common misconception is that hiring an in-house general counsel would be less expensive than a retainer-based arrangement with an outside attorney. To be certain, some larger school districts do, in fact, find the in-house general counsel to be a cost saving plan but the superintendent must look past the mere cost of the in-house salary versus the total cost of the outside arrangement. There is a great additional expense when one considers the cost of the support personnel to your in-house general counsel, benefits, office expense, travel, memberships and the ubiquitous litigation expenses which will be delegated to litigation attorneys no matter which arrangement you have for school board general counsel.

Monday's meeting is set for 7:30 p.m. at the district offices, 525 Academy St. in Maplewood.

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