07/25/08 — Duplin attorney fees up to $75,000 as county/school mediation continues

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Duplin attorney fees up to $75,000 as county/school mediation continues

By Steve Herring
Published in News on July 25, 2008 1:58 PM

KENANSVILLE -- Attorneys' fees have reached $75,000 in the month-old meditation dispute between county commissioners and school board over local funding of the schools.

The total does not include any charges associated with Wednesday night's mediation session. Another session is set for Monday at 6:30 p.m.

Both boards met in closed sessins in their respective board rooms as Chapel Hill attorney and professional mediator Andy Little shuttled between them.

Little charges $185 per hour for his services. His cost will be split between the two boards.

The school board, who hired education specialists Brian Shaw and Richard Schwartz of Raleigh, has shelled out $64,018 in legal fees related to the mediation. Schwartz and Shaw charge $250 each per hour. An additional $185 per hour is paid for another attorney in their office, while $75 per hour is paid for a paralegal. Board attorney David Phillips receives $150 per hour.

Commissioners saying they, too, needed specialized legal representation hired Fayetteville attorney Neil Yarborough.

Yarborough is paid $300 per hour and $150 per hour for travel. The county has been billed for $5,000, but probably owes a total of $10,000, county Manager Mike Aldridge said.

Aldridge said that Yarborough has been hospitalized and was unable to attend Thursday's session.

County attorney Wendy Sivori who has also been involved in the process is a salaried county employee.

As mediator, Little has the authority to determine that an impasse exists and to discontinue mediation. The school board may file action in Duplin County Superior Court within five days of an announcement that no agreement could be reached.

In its resolution asking for the mediation the school board instructed its attorneys to file such an action, "if mediation is not concluded in a manner approved by the board of education."

The case may be heard by a judge or either side may ask for a jury trial.

Should the decision go against commissioners, the court could order the county to increase taxes to provide necessary school funding.

The court's ruling may be appealed.

The school board invoked the mediation process June 18 saying that the county has failed for the past two years to provide adequate funding to support a system of free public schools.