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Decision on fees expected soon

By Trina Trice

The Clayton County Board of Education will find out this month how much of a $70,849.50 attorney bill charged by Atlanta attorneys Terry Jackson and Lee Sexton, it will have to pay.

According to the bill, Sexton spent 83 hours at $350 per hour for a total of $29,050. Jackson spent 147 hours at $275 per hour for a total of $40,425.

The school board hired Jackson and Sexton to handle the removal of former Superintendent Dan Colwell.

The school board fired Colwell at a Jan. 13 meeting. After Colwell accused the board of acting illegally, they later suspended Colwell with pay pending a hearing that happened.

In a February called meeting, the board and Colwell reached an agreement that included his resignation and a $232,000 buyout for Colwell.

The school board opted to dispute the fees following a retreat they took in Peachtree City in February.

The school board and Jackson and Sexton have filed petitions, agreeing to allow the Georgia Bar Association to hear its dispute in a fee arbitration hearing.

"(The school board) is taking the issue of legal fees billed by Jackson (to the Georgia Bar Association)," said Gary Sams, attorney for the school district, at the retreat. "It will be resolved in that manner. We're not saying (the fees) are unfair. A lot of the fees need some review. The board felt the fees were higher than they were expecting."

However, Sams isn't sure if he'll be handling the fee arbitration on the school board's behalf.

"I got a copy of a document from the other side that listed another attorney handling the case," Sams said. "The board hasn't yet consulted with me on that."

Local attorney Greg Hecht of Fincher & Hecht was named as the attorney.

Hecht said "somebody from the school system asked me to look at the bill. They asked me to give my opinion whether the fees were fair, high or low, and what was involved in a fee arbitration process."

Hecht's only involvement in the fee arbitration was to offer free legal advice.

"There was no charging by my firm to the school board," Hecht said. "I'm just someone who cares about the school system." The fee arbitration "is Gary Sams' matter, as far as I'm concerned."

The hearing should be this month, according to Sexton.

"Hopefully they'll rule on our behalf," Sexton said. "It's kind of an outrage that the school board thinks we would work for them for free."

He said is donating his part of the fee to charity.

"I'm furious with the school board. You'd think they'd have the integrity to pay for the work that was done. It's a shame that they don't."

The hearing takes place before an arbitration panel made up of two attorneys and one "public member." Most hearings only take one day before a decision is made, said Rita Payne, director of the Fee Arbitration Program.

More specific details about the upcoming hearing can't be shared with the public at this time, Payne said.

Both parties agreed to be bound by the arbitrators' decision, Sexton said.