Fired Cobb School District law firm was paid over $2 million a year

Shannon Ballew, Marietta Daily Journal, Ga.
·4 min read

Mar. 25—The Cobb County School District paid its fired law firm more than $7 million in the last three years, according to the district.

In response to an open records request filed by the MDJ, the Cobb School District said it paid Marietta-based Gregory, Doyle, Calhoun & Rogers over $2.1 million in the 2018 school year, over $2.7 million in the 2019 school year and $2.1 million last school year. That adds to a little more than $7 million over three years.

The open records request also asked for the contract between the firm and school district. Yet Ana Texidor of CCSD's open records department said the district "was not able to locate any contracts" with the firm for more details about its legal services.

After meeting behind closed doors last week, the Cobb school board came out in public and voted to fire Gregory Doyle without giving a public reason. The board hired the firm of Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough to serve as its interim counsel on Saturday while it searches for permanent legal services.

The board's vote on the new firm was 6-1, with Dr. 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.

Nelson Mullins also represents Fulton County School District and Atlanta Public Schools. Firm partners Nina Gupta and Suzann Wilcox will serve as co-lead counsel for Cobb County School District.

The board voted along party lines to fire Gregory Doyle, with its four Republicans voting in favor and its three Democrats in opposition.

In an interview with the MDJ this week, Superintendent Chris Ragsdale said he could not say why the board ended its agreement with Gregory Doyle and did not know why the district did not have a contract with the firm. It remains up to the school board to decide whether it wants to adopt a formal contract when it chooses a permanent firm for legal services.

"I do feel confident that the board selection (of) Nelson Mullins to move forward on an interim basis is a good decision," Ragsdale said. "And I do feel confident that they can provide the level of service, you know, that is very complex, right, because we're the second largest district in the state, and we have a lot of needs, when it comes to legal services."

The change comes in the wake of Cobb District Attorney Flynn Broady launching an inquiry into the purchasing practices of the school district. Those practices came under fire at a school board meeting in February, where a group of parents accused the district of wasting $12 million on unproven technology meant to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Prior to 2010, Glenn Brock and his firm, Brock, Clay, Calhoun and Rogers, served as the Cobb School District's legal counsel. Brock had been the school board's attorney since 1989. But in his later years, Brock found himself at the center of a number of controversies. In 2009, for example, he admitted that the school board had been voting secretly in executive sessions for the previous two years, a violation of the Georgia Open Meetings Act.

Another issue centered on Brock's secretly adopted 2007 contract that called for an automatic renewal every four years unless the board voted to cancel. That contract was worth about $2 million a year in legal fees, the MDJ reported at the time.

In 2010, Brock announced his resignation as board attorney, saying he was passing the torch to a partner in his firm, Clem Doyle. Doyle already represented Marietta City Schools, something he had done since 2003. With Marietta, Doyle said he had never had a contract, but simply a month-to-month deal. When he stepped in to represent Cobb County School District, his preference was to go month to month with Cobb also, a preference he said the school board agreed to.

In 2013, Brock left the firm he co-founded to join Nelson Mullins, taking with him a number of the firm's education-law specialists. Bowing out with Brock were Brock Clay partner Nina Gupta, Carol Callaway (of counsel), Suzann Wilcox (of counsel), Laura Lashley (senior counsel), Kathryn Arms (associate) and Brandon Moulard (associate). Brock, who also represented Fulton County Schools, brought that account to Nelson Mullins with him.

That's when Brock, Clay, Calhoun and Rogers changed its name to Gregory, Doyle, Calhoun & Rogers.

Brock retired from Nelson Mullins in 2020. Nina Gupta and Suzann Wilcox, who now represent Cobb Schools, used to practice at Brock Clay.

Ragsdale told the board on Saturday that Nelson Mullins would receive the same pay from the district as Gregory Doyle did.