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Legal counsel for Clayton schools leaving for Memphis job

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Clayton County schools legal counsel Dorsey Hopson will leave the district after nine months, to take a similar position with the Memphis (Tenn.) City Schools.

Hopson, who previously served as legal counsel to the Atlanta Public School system, has acted as counsel to the Clayton County Board of Education in legal disputes since July 2007.

In Memphis, he will oversee a staff of two attorneys, and one paralegal, said Tomeka Hart, president of Memphis City Schools Board of Education.

Hopson, who is a native of Memphis, was one of two finalists for the position. He was selected on Monday.

"We're very happy to get him," Hart said. "If we didn't want him, we wouldn't have hired him. He had the experience we were looking for. We are a large school system with numerous legal issues to deal with, and he knows how to deal with those types of issues."

Hart said no date has been set when Hopson will take over as the Memphis board's legal counsel. She added, Hopson will be paid $168,000 per year, and receive a car allowance of $4,212.

The Memphis school system has 115,000 students.

"We want him to start as soon as possible, but we understand he has obligations to [Clayton County schools] which he would like to wrap up," Hart said.

Hart noted it wasn't hard for the Memphis school board to find Hopson because of his ties to the city and "it's not hard when you're looking for a school board legal counsel. There aren't that many out there."

Hopson initially took over as an interim legal advisor to the Clayton school board last summer after the law firm of Weekes and Candler, LLP, abruptly ended their services to the board. Hopson worked for the law firm of Greenberg Traurig, LLP, at the time.

Greenberg Traurig conducted an investigation of a controversial land purchase by the school system, and concluded the board's previous attorneys were partially to blame. Weekes and Candler representatives and the board of education came to a mutual decision to end the firms services to the district the night before Greenberg Traurig's report came out.

In August, the board voted to make Hopson the district's permanent legal counsel. His annual salary with Clayton schools was $175,000. Only Interim Superintendent Duncan had a higher annual salary. There was a brief debate about whether or not two versions of Hopson's contract existed in the fall, raising the question of whether or not he was initially going to be paid more than Duncan's salary.

The attorney denied the existence of a second contract.

Eddie White, the acting chairman of the Clayton County board of education, said the board will miss Hopson, but wishes him well in Memphis.

"He's done a great job for this school system, and given us good legal advice," White said. "He's from Memphis, so I guess it's always a good thing to go home again."

Hopson could not be reached for comment because the school system's offices are closed for spring break.