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Douglas school board plans to ask judge to keep Green from taking seat

by Merrie Leininger, Staff Writer

Will Randy Green be able to take his seat on the Douglas County School Board in January?

The answer may be up to a Douglas County District Court judge.

The school board voted unanimously Tuesday to file for declaratory relief and ask for a temporary restraining order to keep Green from taking the seat until there is a decision.

DCSD special counsel Bob Cox said he intended to file the lawsuit in district court after the Nevada State School Boards’ Association decided whether it would join with DCSD in the lawsuit. The association met in Pahrump Friday.

On Cox’s advice, the board rejected an alternative suggestion from Green’s attorney, George Keele.

Keele said Douglas County District Attorney Scott Doyle had suggested asking the Legislature to consider the issue would be quicker than what could be a long and expensive process of court appeals. Keele suggested if both sides agreed to abide by whatever decision the Legislature makes, it would save money.

However, Keele also suggested that a district judge could install Green while waiting for the Legislature to hear the item.

Keele said a court order installing Green would protect the district against any claims that the board was setting policy with an illegal board member.

“I don’t know if the judge has the power to do that,” Cox said. “With this proposal, we would have to go through an awful lot of negotiation to make it work. I don’t think it would work. I think this can be decided expeditiously (in court).”

Part of the board’s motion included keeping the option of asking for attorney’s fees if the judge rules in favor of the district.

School board President Don Forrester said Wednesday that is a normal procedure.

“I was an attorney for 20 years. Every lawsuit I put in, it was automatic (to ask for attorney’s fees). In a case like this, it is probably not going to be awarded. But, if Green gets the state teacher’s association behind him, they have more money than God. We’d get run ragged,” Forrester said.

He said he didn’t understand the public’s attitude toward the school board over this issue.

“In December of 1998, when he applied for the position, he got our legal opinion. Why didn’t he go to the Legislature then? Instead, he goes ahead and files for the candidacy and what does he expect us to do? Then people got mad at us. That was the weirdest offer (that George Keele made) I ever heard. That was crazy. It was almost a no-brainer,” he said.

School board member George Echan said he felt it was important to reserve the right to ask for attorney’s fees because the case could end up costing the district $50,000.

“In almost all the actions the district has ever filed we ask for that. I think if you look in the Kirk Cunningham case, both sides reserved the right to have attorney’s fees. It’s not a unique thing,” Echan said. “If the issue gets decided very quickly, I’m sure everyone’s appetite is not to penalize him. But it would be foolish to completely waive them.”

Business Services Director Rick Kester said the school district retains Cox for specialty cases involving personnel issues. He said if Cox is working, the district is charged $225, but if someone else from his office is doing the work, they are charged about $150.

Echan said the board cannot allow Green to take his seat if the state statute says no one who receives financial benefit from the board can be a member of that board.

“We have errors and omissions insurance that every district has. It protects us from claims that board members acted outside the law. If he is on the board, we could gridlock the district because of an illegally composed board. Any decision we make could be subject to reversal,” Echan said. “What we really need is the objective protection of the court. If they say he is entitled to sit, I think every board member welcomes him.”

Green said he isn’t worried about being ordered to pay attorney’s fees at this point.

“I don’t think realistically they can charge me for their legal fees in an action they initiated. Their perception is I’ve done something to them. I haven’t violated the law, and I’m not seeking financial compensation,” Green said.

He said he has had many offers to start a legal defense fund, but Green has turned them down.

“I don’t want to organize a big effort. If I was wrong, then there is a possibility I would not be negative about taking money, but I don’t want to take a lot of money right now and then have to give it back,” he said.

Green said Keele has agreed to do all his legal work on a pro-bono basis, so all he has paid into this effort so far is $376 for campaign signs and $40 to publish a Web page.

Green said he looks forward to the court hearing.

“We’ve never really presented our case. Everything up to now has been the district’s position. I’m just glad we get to go before a third party that can take an honest look at the issue,” Green said.