Principal ordered to pay school district’s legal fees |

Principal ordered to pay school district’s legal fees

by Christy Chalmers

A U.S. district judge has decided former Jacks Valley Elementary School Principal Kirk Cunningham should pay the Douglas County School District $37,596 for a “meritless” lawsuit.

The order, signed March 5 by Judge David Hagen, affirms a December recommendation to require Cunningham to pay legal fees stemming from a lawsuit Cunningham filed.

“It’s disappointing, but it’s not devastating,” said Cunningham.

Douglas Superintendent Pendery Clark said Friday district officials had not seen the order, but “we would be very pleased that the money will be returned.

“I think it was a pretty strong decision in terms of saying it was a frivolous lawsuit without any basis, and when people file those types of suits, that in the end they could be responsible for some of the costs,” she said. “That’s good news for us.”

Cunningham, now a co-principal at Scarselli Elementary School, filed the suit in March 1999. He claimed the district violated his due process rights and caused emotional distress by transferring him from his principal position at Jacks Valley to a principal on special assignment job at Gardnerville Elementary School. He said the move was a demotion and interfered with his contract.

The court ruled for the school district, calling Cunningham’s claims “meritless and without foundation,” and the district then asked for attorneys fees of nearly $47,000.

A magistrate recommended Cunningham should pay $37,596.

Court documents say the school district paid attorney Robert Cox for 43.55 hours of work at $225 an hour for a total of $9,798.75. The district paid Michael Nivinskus for 224.5 hours at $155 per hour, totaling $35,417.50. The district also asked for $1,779.75 in other costs.

The court reduced the figure by 20 percent, calling some of the time spent on the case by the district’s lawyers “excessive.”

Cunningham said he expects to continue working for the district. He said his assignment at Scarselli will end with the current school year, and he could be reassigned.

“This is my 29th year, and I don’t want to leave, especially now that we have a new school board,” he said. “I’m impressed with the new additions to the board.”