The decision to fire Stockton Unified School District board general counsel Jack Lipton was swift, and the meeting was short.
SUSD board president AngelAnn Flores called a special Friday morning meeting at the Arthur Coleman Jr. Administrative Complex with just two items on the agenda. The most significant piece of business was a proposal to end the SUSD board’s legal services agreement with Burke, Williams & Sorensen, LLP. Lipton is a partner in the firm.
The board voted 4-3 to terminate a deal which had been a source of controversy since going into effect more than two years ago. The entire meeting went about 16 minutes.
Flores has pledged to address what she sees as major issues with the board of trustees, and this was her first significant move since becoming president on Dec. 13.
“We need to start moving forward with trustworthy legal advice and we don’t have any time to waste,” Flores said after the proceedings. “We have to get moving quickly to fix everything that has been dismantled.”
Flores was joined in her vote to fire Lipton by the three newest board members – vice president Kennetha Stevens, board clerk Sofia Colon and Donald Donaire, all of whom began their first term on the same day Flores as elected president. Cecilia Mendes, Ray Zulueta and Alicia Rico, all hold overs from the previous board, voted against the proposal.
Zulueta said he wasn’t convinced the termination of Lipton was being done for the correct reasons.
“I believe in the support that Mr. Lipton gave me, and he and the professionals at his law firm did a really great job making the law simple and plain for us to understand,” Zulueta said. “Many people may have their opinions about that. I believe today’s vote sounded a little but more about personal opinions and people’s feelings and a lot less about the business of the district.”
Lipton sat in the audience and filled out a speaker’s card to address the board. He asked the three newer members to consider delaying the vote until they had a chance to work with him, but each voted for his removal.
Colon said while she’s a new trustee, she is a SUSD parent and has attended many board meetings before her run for office.
“There was several times in the last couple of years as a listener, a parent and a concern citizen, I heard attorney Lipton give what I considered misleading information,” Colon said. “It’s frustrating to look back at a history of mistakes. We need someone to steer us in a better direction.”
Lipton’s firm was hired to represent the SUSD trustees on Feb. 24, 2022 in a special board meeting which was cited for its “unusual” circumstances in the first of two scathing Grand Jury reports concerning the school district in the past two years. Among the issues addressed in the report was hiring a law firm to represent just the trustees and not the entire district, and the agenda item did not the contract or funding source.
Flores said as of a few months ago, the firm had billed the district for more than $550,000. She stated the district has other lawyers and she does not plan at the moment to propose hiring additional counsel.
The meeting was called on Wednesday to deal with a clerical issue, and Flores said she added the vote on Lipton’s status because next Tuesday’s regularly scheduled meeting has a full agenda.
Great Decision! Tremendous savings for Stockton tax payers, and the first steps towards true transparency! I’ve never heard of a school board hiring a private law firm above the legal representation provided by the district — unless of course one is engaging in legally questionable activity.
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