Tue09302014

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Judge denies legal fees for charter school


A Santa Clara County Superior Court judge last week denied Bullis Charter School’s request for reimbursement of legal fees from the Los Altos School District resulting from a lawsuit seeking reasonably equivalent facilities.

The charter school filed the motion in December 2012 after receiving a favorable ruling from the Court of Appeal on the previous facilities lawsuit. The motion asked the court to compel the district to pay the charter school’s attorney fees related to that case. As of October, the fees totaled approximately $1.53 million.

Judge Patricia Lucas explained in her ruling that she rejected the charter school’s request for fee reimbursement because of the law charter school attorneys cited when filing the original case.

She first examined whether Bullis Charter School was successful enough in the appeals case to warrant the motion. The ruling stated that the charter school’s legal objective was not just a “clarification of the law” and was unsuccessful in its “true litigation objective” to secure “exclusive use of a site.”

Because the charter school failed in its objective, Lucas concluded that the school neglected to establish that it was the successful party.

Lucas also reviewed whether the ruling benefited a large class of persons, another requirement under the legal code cited. She said that when public benefit is incidental to the lawsuit’s goal, awarding of fees is inappropriate.

“(The legal code) was not designed as a method for rewarding litigants motivated by their own pecuniary interests who only coincidentally protect the public interest,” the ruling stated, citing a similar legal case.

Finally, Lucas considered whether its stake in the legal case motivated the charter school. Lucas said the Bullis Charter School legal team failed to point out that the school has a financial interest in the facilities it occupies, even though it does not own them.

Because the evidence in discovery revealed that the charter school attempted to lease the Bullis Purissima School site – now Gardner Bullis School – and later raised $5 million in an attempt to purchase the property, the “amount spent by a third party on this litigation is still substantially less than the petitioner’s own assessment of the value of the site it seeks.”

Lucas concluded that the charter school was “amply motivated by its own stake, and its burden is not out of proportion to its stake.”

The district also sought fees and discovery sanctions totaling $436,464 in the case. The judge denied both requests because the district was not determined the successful party in the previous lawsuit and the process of discovery is “often iterative, particularly in complex cases.”

Reaction

Tammy Logan, Los Altos School District Board of Trustees president, said she is pleased that the district will not have to pay the charter school’s $1.5 million legal bill.

“Given the amount spent on just this case, and considering (the charter school’s) unsuccessful lawsuits in 2004, 2005, 2012 and 2013, it is troubling how much money has been diverted from public-school children,” Logan wrote in an email to the Town Crier. “Even where this case served to clarify district requirements in allocating facilities, the court found that the public obtained no significant benefit. I remain hopeful that with this long chapter closing, (the district) and Bullis Charter School will now come together, drop all lawsuits and put their time and money where it belongs – in improving our top-ranked public schools and expanding and developing the facilities available to them.”

Bullis Charter School Board of Directors Chairman Ken Moore said now is the time for leadership and solutions.

“It’s clear from the ruling that the court agrees largely with us, that the time for litigating these issues needs to be a thing of the past and we need to agree to short-term and long-term solutions that make sense for public-school students of Los Altos,” Moore said in an email to the Town Crier. “Our kids deserve the best facilities available so that they continue to receive the finest public education possible. We look forward to working with (the district) to resolve these issues.”

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