In the weeks that followed the announcement last September that Broward County School Board member Beverly Gallagher had been busted for taking bribes in an FBI sting, several of her colleagues got anxious. So did the school district administration.
"The FBI was asking a lot of questions of members of the School Board, who didn't have any attorneys with experience in criminal justice matters," Michael D. Weinstein, the Fort Lauderdale attorney who was hired to provide legal counsel to any board member who desired it. Jennifer Gottlieb, Ben Williams, Maureen Dinnen, and Robin Bartleman all took him up on the offer.
Jeff Moquin, who handles risk management for the school district, says district officials realized they would need more lawyers.
As it happened, a fifth School Board member, Phyllis Hope, had already been planning to retain attorney Jonathan Kasen. Moquin says that since the district was looking to retain more legal help, the general counsel's office was happy to accommodate Hope's request, and Kasen was hired.
Hope has not returned calls for comment
about her decision to bring in Kasen, but it's interesting that she wasn't inclined to use the same attorney as the other School Board members. Having been on the same December 2008 yacht trip where undercover FBI agents were trying to lure corrupt promises from public officials, Hope would seem to have had more reason than her board colleagues to fear that she was a target of investigators.
In that scenario, ambitious investigators might have pressed Hope for information against other board members. Had she retained Weinstein like the other board members, then Weinstein could not have negotiated that sort of deal, out of respect for his other clients.
Then again, Hope's willingness to accept legal counsel from the school district suggests that she was at least somewhat optimistic about her chances of avoiding an indictment. The school district provides legal defense for board members who are hauled into court for any action that relates to their typical responsibilities on the board.
But as Moquin explains it, the district is free to cut off payments to that attorney the moment it becomes evident that the member's legal trouble came from doing something far outside their role on the School Board. And the district then takes action to be reimbursed for the legal expenses that accumulated to that point.
For instance, Gallagher did not bother trying to get the school district to retain a lawyer on her behalf. Even if the district had given her one, Gallagher must not have wanted to deal with the aggravations that might come with the district withdrawing that lawyer in the middle of dealings with the U.S. Attorney's Office.
If the legal billings are any indication, then Hope felt considerably more anxious after the Gallagher case surfaced than did her colleagues. Hope's bill for Kasen came to $3,339. For representing the four other board members, Weinstein charged just $1,173.
Kasen has said that Hope was "blameless" in the FBI sting and that investigators were interested in her only as a witness until they learned she had little information to offer.