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 CAB's Legal Fees Soaring on Student Movie, Secrecy Issues

April 2, 2008 - After being hired in August 2006, it took the Charles A. Beard Memorial School Corporation's new legal counsel less than a year to make more from CAB than their predecessor had in the previous four-and-a-half years.

Billing and payment records show that CAB's former long-time attorney, Ed Dunsmore, charged the school corporation $21,942.54 from Jan. 1, 2002, through July 18, 2006. It took Dunsmore's replacements, Indianapolis attorney Mike Wallman and his firm, Rund Wallman & Robbins LLP, only nine months to surpass that amount.

From the time they were hired through December 2007, Wallman and his firm billed CAB $31,284.32. Ranging from a low of $115.30 (Oct. 31, 2006) to a high of $7,313.57 (Nov. 30, 2006), Wallman's firm charged CAB an average of $1,961.52 a month over that first 16 months.

Under its contract with Wallman's firm, CAB pays a $200 monthly retainer, which covers telephone advice about certain legal issues. An analysis of the firm's billing statements reveals, however, that most of the work they do for CAB - a little more than 90 percent - is not covered by the retainer, but, instead, costs CAB $140 an hour.

While CAB's new legal counsel has handled sundry legal matters for the school corporation, two issues account for nearly two-thirds of the work they've done: the expulsion of four Knightstown High School students last year over a horror film parody they made on their own time off school grounds - an issue that resulted in a federal judge reversing CAB’s actions and an eventual $69,000 settlement for three of the students and their parents; and issues involving access to public records.

In November 2006, Wallman's firm billed CAB for nearly 51 hours of work related to the expulsion of the KHS students. In the months that followed, that number climbed to nearly 70 hours.

Issues involving access to public records have also kept CAB's new attorneys busy. Through the end of December, this subject resulted in nearly 75 hours of work for Wallman and his firm - only about 70 of which were covered under CAB's monthly retainer.

While much of the work on public records issues was related to CAB's efforts to withhold public records requested by The Banner, that was not always the case. Last September, CAB refused to allow school board member Kevin Knott to see uncensored copies of four public records, and this issue, which is still unresolved, resulted in more than 11 hours of legal work in late 2007.

 

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