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Seattle schools facing $1 M attempt to recover legal costs


A day after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Seattle Public Schools cannot use race as a tiebreaker for school assignments, the attorney who represented the parents who sued the district said he will try to recover his legal costs.

“This stuff is expensive,” attorney Harry Korrell, a partner at the Seattle law firm of Davis Wright Tremaine, said Friday. “There’s no way to fight in federal court without racking up quite a legal bill.”

He has represented the Seattle group Parents Involved in Community Schools for the past seven years, challenging the district’s policy of using students’ race as one of several tiebreakers for spots at popular schools.

District officials said they planned to fight what would amount to a more than $1 million bill.

Pressing for legal fees after saying your firm is working “pro bono” for the public good is somewhat contrary, said Shannon McMinimee, an attorney for the district.

Scott Schumacher, an assistant law professor at the University of Washington, said it’s not uncommon for an attorney or law firm that has won a pro bono case to petition the court to recover legal fees. Korrell and his firm will have to return to the original trial court to make their case.

“It’s perfectly legitimate, though it seems counterintuitive,” Schumacher said, adding that often the fees are used to help fund more pro bono work.

Korrell said the total amount of the legal bills won’t likely be tallied for about a month, until the case is handed back down to the trial court, he said.

“We didn’t want to put a bunch of time into it until we knew it was going to be worth the effort,” he said.

The district hired outside lawyers to work with a team of in-house attorneys on the racial tiebreaker case, and their legal costs totaled about $434,000 over seven years, McMinimee said.

She noted that parent Kathleen Brose, the lead plaintiff in the case, has repeatedly said she wants the district to spend its time and money on improving struggling schools.

“We can’t put the money into the schools if we have to put it into Davis Wright Tremaine,” she said. “Let’s be frank: This is about taking money from kids.”

Brose said Friday that PICS members knew if they won, their attorney would collect what he could.

“The money it doesn’t go into Harry’s pocket, it goes into the firm’s, and I’m sure that money will allow them to provide pro bono services for other people or other organizations,” Brose said.

She said the price parents and students have also paid a price over the years. Some parents sent their children to private schools to avoid enrolling them at inadequate high schools. Other relocated to other school districts.

“It cost me time, it cost me money, it cost me emotionally,” Brose said. “All the money that the attorneys will collect from the school district is a drop in the bucket compared to the costs that parents have incurred.”

Information from: Seattle Post-Intelligencer,

–Associated Press

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