Q: Why don’t sharks attack lawyers?

A: Professional courtesy.

Think attorneys representing school boards are all smart and public spirited?

Think Again! From the mighty Timberjay’s coverage of the ongoing saga of the Duluth School Board’s greatest rival for the title: “most incompetent Minnesota school board:

The St. Louis County School District’s pursuit of legal disputes on the advice of its attorney has cost the district hundreds of thousands of dollars that could have been spent on education.

Attorney Steven Knutson claims taking issues to the courts has saved the district hundreds of thousands of dollars in claims filed by contractors, but he doesn’t tell the full story. One contractor that the district has fought for years offered to settle for $86,000 and change over a year and a half ago. Since then, Knutson has racked up more than $116,000 in legal fees on the case and the district is currently on the hook for the contractor’s legal fees on top of that. And just this past week, Knutson filed a notice of intent to appeal to the Minnesota Court of Appeals. The meter, in other words, is still running. While Knutson benefits financially from protracted litigation, the district would have been far ahead by negotiating settlements rather than waging questionable courtroom battles.

It gets much worse. In a second longer editorial there’s this:

While these three cases proved extraordinarily lucrative for the Knutson Flynn & Deans law firm, with total billings in excess of $395,000, they proved of questionable value for the school district. In total, between awards to contractors, attorney’s fees to Knutson, and attorney’s fees currently awarded to plaintiffs (which the district is appealing), the district has incurred total expenses and obligations of approximately $704,000 in just the past two years. The final tally is likely to be significantly higher.

Yet the school district’s total original financial liability in the three cases was no more than approximately $555,000, and that figure certainly could have been negotiated downwards significantly had the district and its attorney made the effort. Instead, the district, following Knutson’s advice, pursued a confrontational approach in every case, filing unsubstantiated counterclaims against contractors and openly ridiculing complainants in the campaign finance case. In no case, did the district or Knutson reach a settlement ahead of court action.

Maybe if the St. Louis County School Board looks for a new attorney Duluth’s Kevin Rupp could apply.

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