The Clayton County Board of Education voted, this week, not to pay the attorney fees for Board Member Trinia Garrett, which she incurred as she defended herself (in December) against charges that she downloaded pornography from more than 60 web sites onto a computer assigned to her by the school district.
Board members voted 6-3 not to pay the $6,840.46 in fees, according to Garrett’s attorney, Robert Mack, who represented her during her hearing before the school board in January. Board Members Michael King, Jessie Goree, and Charlton Bivins voted in favor of paying the fees.
“I do understand that certain board members say we don’t have the money to pay for those attorney fees,” said King. “I think, if we’re bringing charges and we don’t prevail in those charges, it’s our responsibility to pay.”
During Garrett’s hearing, the school board failed to find that she violated Georgia’s BCA/Model Ethics Code, which states, among other things, that no board of education member can take private action that will compromise the board or school system administration. Although board members voted 5-2 to sustain the charges, the allegations against Garrett were dropped. The action against Garrett failed, because six affirmative votes were needed to move forward with a finding that she had violated the ethics policy.
According to Garrett, the board was supposed to appoint an attorney for her, but failed to do so. “I don’t understand,” she said. “I’m hurt, stressed out and depressed. I came on the board for the children. We spent $40,000 on this investigation. Where did it go?”
She added that Glenn Brock, the attorney for the school district, was “paid his money; my attorney deserves to be paid.”
Board Member Jessie Goree, who referred to the original reason for the investigation — to find the source of salacious rumors about School Superintendent Edmond Heatley — said: “If we have $40,000 to pursue a rumor, we have money to pay [Garrett’s lawyer] $6,000.”
During the meeting, Monday, things got heated between Board Chairperson Pam Adamson and Goree, when Goree scolded board members for handling the allegations against Garrett in public, rather than behind closed doors. “The situation could have been avoided, if the board, itself, would have adopted a protocol,” Goree told her fellow board members.
Adamson quickly cut Goree off, saying: “Ms. Goree, we’re discussing whether or not we should pay Garrett’s legal fees.”
“Well, I’m going to discuss it,” Goree replied, then proceeded to scold the board once again for not adopting a “protocol” that would have allowed it to handle the matter in a closed session.
Adamson interrupted her again, asking her to stick with the issue at hand.
At which point, King again urged board members to consider paying Garrett’s attorney fees, in order to avoid paying a much larger bill in the future, that could be brought on by what he termed retaliation from Garrett and her attorney, Robert Mack.
“In the future, we need to add something to the moral code,” said King. “Paying the $6,840.46 is the more reasonable price.”
Meanwhile, Garrett still insists that it is not her responsibility to pay the fees, since the board initiated the action for which she had to defend herself, and, then, didn’t sustain the charges. She said she will meet with her attorney, Mack, and see what will be their next course of action.
“It’s not fair,” she said. “It’s not over. I have prayed about it, and now, it’s in the hands of the Lord.”