Cobb school board hires interim law firm

Aleks Gilbert, Marietta Daily Journal, Ga.
·3 min read

Mar. 20—The Cobb Board of Education hired Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough as its interim law firm Saturday morning, just two days after firing its longtime firm Gregory, Doyle, Calhoun & Rogers.

The board's vote was 6-1, with Jaha Howard in opposition. Howard asked that the board delay the vote until every member had met with the new firm, but his suggestion was voted down by every other board member.

Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough already represents Fulton County School District and Atlanta Public Schools, Cobb Superintendent Chris Ragsdale said.

Scarborough partners Nina Gupta and Suzann Wilcox will serve as co-lead counsel for Cobb County School District. Ragsdale said he would arrange for a meet-and-greet between board members and the Scarborough attorneys in the coming week.

The board voted 4-3 Thursday to end the district's contract with Gregory, Doyle, Calhoun & Rogers, with Democrats Charisse Davis, Jaha Howard and Tre' Hutchins in opposition.

That vote was made without any discussion as to why.

Howard asked at the Thursday meeting whether there would be any discussion on the topic.

"That's why we had (a closed-door discussion), so we wouldn't be inadvertently into sensitive areas," board Chairman Randy Scamihorn replied.

Thursday's vote also directed Superintendent Chris Ragsdale to compile a list of other firms serving school districts with more than 70,000 students and present it, along with a "recommendation for interim legal counsel," to the board at Saturday's special-called meeting.

The only districts with that many students are DeKalb, Gwinett, Fulton and Cobb, Ragsdale said. Firms already representing those districts were Gregory, Doyle, Calhoun & Rogers; Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough; and Thompson, Sweeny, Kinsinger & Pereira.

"Based on my conversations with partners at each firm, superintendents and others, (Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough) has the experience and resources allowing it to consistently, reliably and timely respond to the district's complex legal needs," Ragsdale said.

Scarborough will be "subjected to the same monthly retainer agreement as currently exists" with Gregory Doyle, Ragsdale told the board before their vote. The details of that retainer were not immediately available Saturday.

As the board's attorney, Clem Doyle, a partner at Gregory, Doyle, Calhoun & Rogers, until now attended all meetings of the Cobb Board of Education, serving as a parliamentarian. It was unclear whether he was present at Saturday's meeting.

Gregory, Doyle, Calhoun & Rogers also represents Marietta City Schools. The district's chairwoman, Angela Orange, said the district will keep the firm.

"We're not considering any change to our board of education attorney, and we are very satisfied with the work of our law firm," she said. "I don't know any details about why Cobb made that decision."

Hutchins said he couldn't specify why the board fired its law firm, but he said they felt the school district needed to "move in a different direction." He and his Democratic colleagues disagreed with the termination, but Hutchins said he agreed that Cobb Schools needs a change in its legal services.

"This is an opportunity for us to review our current process," he said.

Doyle did not directly address the termination in a statement to the MDJ.

"It has been a true honor for me and for our firm to represent the Cobb County School District," he said in an email.

Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough will only serve Cobb County School District in an interim capacity, and Thursday's vote stipulates the board will identify permanent legal counsel within 12 months.

— MDJ reporter Shannon Ballew contributed to this report