Special Education class action
lawsuit against CA Dept. of
Lawyer Ellen Dowd
has filed a class
action suit against
the California
Department of
The Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) disregards the law in
case after case.

The public would save money, and justice would be far better
served, if the officer simply flipped a coin.

90% of special education cases are decided in favor of the
district.  School attorneys, like Stutz, Artiano Shinoff & Holz lawyer
Daniel Shinoff, make millions dragging out these cases, when the
outcome is almost assured from the start.
ALJ H. James Ahler
Claudia Houston case
At Maura Larkins' OAH Hearing,
Judge Ahler stated: "I don't know
much about education."
Parent Claudia Houston is
an in pro per hero.  On
January 29, 2008 the
Federal Ninth Circuit Court
of Appeal said she has the
right to prove that she
exhausted administrative
Audit of OAH
requested by
Senator Correa
Parent demonstration
regarding untrained
OAH judges
Atlanta Law Firm Charges To
County Schools Top $1.7 Million

March 14, 2005

An Atlanta law firm that specializes nationwide in special
education cases has charged the Hamilton County Schools
over $1.7 million on a single case that is still ongoing.

The bill thus far from the Charles Weatherly law firm in the
Deal autism case is at $1,742,636. Total taxpayer cost of the
lawsuit is over $2.3 million counting pay for expert witnesses.

County Commissioner Larry Henry said he was advised the
case could have been settled initially for $150,000, though
county school officials deny that.

The same Atlanta law firm billed the Ravenswood School
District in San Jose, Calif., $2.1 million at a time when the
district was going bankrupt, according to the San Jose
Mercury News.

The newspaper said Ravenswood paid for first-class travel
and food for the Atlanta firm.

The Mercury News wrote, "Even as the Ravenswood school
district tumbled toward bankruptcy, its former leaders allowed
an Atlanta law firm to rack up $2.1 million in bills in less than a
year, including first-class plane tickets and meals at some of
the Bay Area's priciest restaurants.

"A Mercury News review found that the Weatherly Law Firm,
hired last year to defend Ravenswood in a special education
lawsuit, charged the district serving the Peninsula's poorest
children what amounts to $420 per student -- 5.5 percent of
its annual budget. A new school board replaced the firm in
December with county counsel charging $30,000 a year."

Hamilton County school officials have been asked by
Chattanoogan.com for details of the Weatherly law firm
billings to the Hamilton County Schools and those have not
yet been made available.

Hamilton County School officials did release details of the
some $600,000 that has been paid for "legal experts."

Those include:

$1,052.50 expert witness fee Alisa Dror  

$40,269.58 expert witness fee Autism Partnership  

$188,747.50 expert witness fee Behavior Therapy  

$167,888.84 expert witness fee Dr. B.J. Freeman  

$12,900.00 expert witness fee Dr. Craig Kennedy  

$74,632.47 expert witness fee Dr. David Rostetter  

$50,850.00 expert witness fee Dr. Mitch Taubman  

$2,800.00 expert witness fee Dr. Peter Thomas  

$48,062.50 expert witness fee Dr. Ronald Leaf  

$1,844.20 expert witness fee Dr. Susan Speraw  

$1,586.00 expert witness fee Thomas Oakland  

Expert Witness Total Expenses: $590,633.59  

TRAVEL SUB TOTAL: $10,902.14  

GRAND TOTAL: $604,268.79  

The Hamilton County Schools spent overall on legal bills:

Fiscal year ending June 30 2002:

Fiscal year ending June 30 2003:

Fiscal year ending June 30 2004:

Fiscal year ending June 30 2005:

The county schools said $419,579 should be deducted from
the 2003 amount and $302,277 from the 2004 amount for
IBNR items. Officials said, "According to Generally Accepted
Accounting Principles, we have to set aside reserve money for
possible claims. This is referred to as IBNR. If the possibility of
those claims goes away, then we have to decrease the
amount of money in those reserves. This has an effect on
legal expenses."

Legal payments were:


Chambliss, Bahner and Stophel $212,374
Philip and Maureen Deal $12,872
Weatherly law firm $165,993
Leitner, Williams and Dooley $17,136
Court Reporter Services $1,510
All Others $1,322  


Chambliss, Bahner and Stophel $165,405
Philip and Maureen Deal $1,882
Weatherly law firm $1,418,1863
Leitner, Williams and Dooley $49,567
Court Reporter Services $9,815
All Others $3,367


Chambliss, Bahner and Stophel $133,650
Weatherly law firm $79,043
Leitner, Williams and Dooley $164,736
Court Reporter Services $3,982
All Others $16,597  


Chambliss, Bahner and Stophel $94,890
Weatherly law firm $79,414
Leitner, Williams and Dooley $139,174
Court Reporter Services $4,274
All Others $13,871

In addition, attorney Ward Crutchfield is paid an annual salary
of $53,985 as the school board attorney.  

Scott Bennett, of the Leitner, Williams and Dooley firm, is
listed as general counsel to the Hamilton County Schools staff.

The Mercury News also said of the Weatherly firm:

Former officials in the East Palo Alto-eastern Menlo Park
district did little to check whether the time lawyers, paralegals
and others spent on the lawsuit was appropriate. Nor did they
question the roughly $135,000 in bills for travel and meals,
including $40 room-service breakfasts for one and $468 of a
$969 tab for a dinner for about 10 people.

Former Superintendent Charlie Mae Knight, who approved
the bills, said she thought the firm's lead lawyer, Charles
Weatherly, ``had been pretty frugal.''

"If he traveled first class, we didn't notice," she said.

In hiring the Weatherly firm, Ravenswood failed to require
safeguards other public agencies often use, including setting
a cap on expenses. The firm's contract did not get a
mandatory county review before Knight signed it -- a lapse
she blamed on a secretary. Had that review occurred, county
lawyers say Ravenswood, which has a $38 million annual
operating budget, probably would have been warned that the
contract could bleed it dry.

Defending the charges

Weatherly, who is widely known for his work in special
education law and has a national client base, had
explanations for nearly all of the questionable charges
involving travel and meals. But he said no one in Ravenswood
had ever asked him about them before.

``We were constantly aware of costs, but the litigation was not
going to stop,'' he said.

The charges included:

• $99,800 for air fare. At least 20 of 78 tickets were first-class,
and 50 of them cost $1,000 or more. Round-trip tickets from
Atlanta were as expensive as $2,584, and one-way tickets as
much as $2,128.

• $14,917 for 250 meals, including at least 23 charges for
room service and 49 meals of $100 or more.

• $2,629 at the Swisso^tel in Boston, where lawyers met with a
special education expert. The rate during most of their stay
was $349 a night per room.

The firm's single biggest bill for meals was $468 of a $969
June 11 dinner at San Mateo's Kingfish, where the specialties
of the house include the ``Full Throne,'' a $40 plate of
``oysters, Dungeness crab, prawns and ahi tartare.''

Weatherly said he only charged the district what he
considered to be a reasonable amount for a meal that fed
about 10 people, and he paid for his own alcohol. He said he
normally does not charge a district more than $30 per person
per meal.

Although the district paid the invoice that had the Kingfish
receipt attached, Knight and two board members said they
were not aware of the charge until the Mercury News brought
it to their attention. Their reactions:

``If you tell me he had a $900 bill and he only billed the district
$400, that's pretty generous,'' Knight said.

Lois Frontino, a board member who lost her seat in
November, added, ``Well, geez, I wish I'd been there, too.''
She said she would ``review some of these things if we did it

And Chester Palesoo, one of two current board members in
office when the firm was hired, had this to say: ``What do I
think? They need to eat. If they don't want McDonald's, they
don't want McDonald's. That's the way it goes.''

Knight's 17 years as superintendent were marked by
controversy, including allegations of cronyism and
mismanagement. Reform school board candidates ousted
some of her supporters in November, and she was put on
paid administrative leave immediately after the new board
took office. The board has made clear it cannot afford to buy
out her $150,000-a-year contract, and she remains on leave.

Ravenswood hired Weatherly and his associates in February
2002 to prevent U.S. District Court Judge Thelton Henderson
from ordering a state takeover for its special education

In financial jeopardy

Now that the district has new leaders, a takeover is no longer
under consideration in the case. But, after paying the
Weatherly firm $2 million between March and November 2002,
Ravenswood is teetering on the brink of a takeover for
financial reasons.

Ironically, the district needs exactly $2 million a year to
improve its special education program and get itself out of
trouble with the judge.

``I think I'm going to be sick,'' said new board member
Marcelino Lopez, when presented with a Mercury News review
of all firm invoices from March 28, 2002, to Jan. 6.

By law, Ravenswood must keep 3 percent of its budget in
reserve, or $1.1 million. Reserves are now at 0.3 percent. If
the district becomes insolvent, the state will probably take

As Ravenswood weighs laying off teachers, Weatherly
continues charging it for time defending his own conduct.
Henderson has launched a probe investigating, among other
things, whether he racked up bills unnecessarily.

In addition to the $2 million paid between March and
November 2002, Weatherly submitted $122,246 in bills the
district's new leaders have not paid.

Of the total $2.1 million Weatherly has billed Ravenswood,
$1.5 million was for hours clocked by lawyers and paralegals
at rates of $50 to $295 an hour. Those rates are comparable
to what other lawyers in his specialized field earn.

An additional $322,897 was charged for expert witness fees
and their travel expenses. Then there was $17,356 for
Federal Express and postage and $130,430 for photocopies
and binding.

Weatherly's contract said the district would cover ``various
out-of-pocket disbursements, including travel expenses.'' It
made no mention of meals.

``We didn't get down to the details of saying you could only
eat at Denny's,'' Knight said.

Many meals billed to Ravenswood -- where nearly every
student is poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price
lunch -- included food for multiple attorneys, paralegals and
experts, occasionally at some of the Bay Area's best

Weatherly said room service was often necessary while he
and his associates worked in their hotel suite, meeting with
experts and others. While in the Bay Area, the lawyers stayed
at a suite at the Burlingame Doubletree. Records show that
tens of thousands of dollars were billed directly to
Ravenswood, in addition to the firm's fees.

Other billing practices

Other lawyers handle expenses differently.

Pasadena lawyer Urrea Jones, who has represented
Ravenswood on a variety of issues, including special
education, pays for air fare himself.

Maree Sneed, a Washington, D.C., education lawyer who has
represented San Francisco and Fresno schools, has high
regard for Weatherly and said it makes sense that a district in
Ravenswood's situation would have hired him. She said the
districts she represents cover her travel and meals, often
without setting caps, but she is vigilant about costs.

For instance, she said she has her secretary search for the
lowest possible air fares. She takes flights with connections to
save money and does not bill for travel time.

Weatherly, who often uses a travel agent, only flies non-stop
on Delta, and does charge for travel time.

He said his air fare often was automatically upgraded to first-
class because he flies so frequently. He flew first-class at
least 14 times and coach six times. The paralegals always flew

Weatherly blamed many of the pricey tickets on Ravenswood,
saying the district would ask him and his associates to fly out
at the last minute, and they did not stay for the weekend -- a
requirement for many reduced-rate fares.

Other school districts, such as Knox County, Tenn., have
faced criticism for paying Weatherly's high fees. But they have
vehemently argued that he actually saves taxpayers' money in
the long run. His firm specializes in cases where children and
their families claim districts should pay for expensive special
education services or private school placements. The districts
argue that paying for a special service once sets off a chain
reaction, where other parents ask for the same thing.

Ravenswood's class-action lawsuit, filed in 1996 on behalf of
disabled children, has been long and costly. An earlier
Mercury News review showed the district paid more than
$425,000 to lawyers from 1999 to 2001. But fees skyrocketed
after Henderson held the district in contempt in August 2001
for failure to improve, and lawyers for children and the state
asked him to order a takeover.

Last November, while the two sides were trying to settle the
contempt charges, voters elected a new school board majority
that vowed to reform special education. Just before the
leadership change, Weatherly filed court papers including a
proposed settlement -- despite the judge's order to wait for
the new board to take action. Weatherly said it was important
to show how much progress had been made.

Henderson blasted the move as politically charged, launching
a disciplinary probe against Weatherly. Among the concerns
the judge cited: ``needless increase in the cost of litigation.''

Outstanding bills

The bills Ravenswood's new leaders have not paid include at
least $12,543 for time Weatherly has spent defending himself
and the partial cost of dinner at San Francisco's posh Gary
Danko, a Mobil guide five-star restaurant requiring
reservations two months in advance.

Although he said he paid for his own alcohol, the Ravenswood
bills include a $27 bar tab. Weatherly acknowledged that
submitting that bill was a mistake.

Ravenswood's new superintendent, Floyd Gonella, said he
has no intention of recommending that the school board give
the Weatherly firm another cent -- and will do whatever he can
to get back money already paid.

``In 28 years as a superintendent, I have never experienced
such outrageous costs,'' said Gonella, who previously served
as superintendent of San Mateo County schools and the
Jefferson high school district. ``The amount taken away from
the little kids of Ravenswood is unconscionable.''

Audit and class action lawsuit regarding bias among
judges at the Office of Administrative Hearings
About 30 parents
gathered at the
entrance to the
University of San
Diego on Monday,
March 10, 2008, when
a long-delayed
training of Office of
Hearing judges was
taking place.

Demonstration details

Exhibits with complaint

Report on cases

Orange County case
decided by
administrative law
judge Susan Ruff
Capistrano School
Attorney Mark

Sherianne Laba case
The answer seems to lie in
Sherianne Laba's
declaration.   She states that
all but a tiny fraction of
parents accept what the
school district offers them.

She seems to think that this
proves that it is reasonable
for 90% of the remaining
parents to get negative
rulings from OAH judges.

What she means is that 90%
of those who don't accept
what the school district
offers are unreasonable.
From what I know, districts
do exactly what they want to
do, and have a habit of
trying to intimidate those
who disagree with them.  
Since they have the OAH in
their pockets, that's not hard
to do.  Only the bravest
parents insist that districts
obey the law.

Is that unreasonable, to
expect schools to obey the

The OAH seems to think so.

An examination of decisions
certainly makes it appear
that judges have been
trained to deny virtually all
parent requests.
Ron Diedrich
Director and Chief
Administrative Law
Judge of OAH
OAH Defense
Ron Diedrich was fully informed of
the illegal antics of
Judge H.
James Ahler, but has
nevertheless kept Ahler at
for many years since them.
Sherianne Laba says that
judges have attended
training sessions.  But what
were they trained to do, Ms.
Lindsey Stewart v.
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