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Bond contest legal tab grows

The bulk of the district’s legal effort during the recent contested bond election cost more than $17,000.

South Washington County Schools recently paid a $17,474 bill to the law firm it retained in the election contest over the $96 million middle school bond that voters approved in November. The district was represented by Mendota Heights-based Knutson Flynn & Deans, which billed 82.75 hours in December at a roughly $205 hourly rate.

The invoice shows attorneys spent time consulting with district administration and at least one School Board member, conducted research and prepared for the case, and attended two court hearings.

The bill includes $16,933 in attorney fees and $541 in court filing fees.

The costs stem from a group of bond opponents’ court challenge of the bond’s five-vote victory in the November election. It was upheld in a recount, and a canvassing board approved the results. However, bond opponents sued because they wanted five disputed and previously uncounted ballots to be counted as “no” votes, which would have defeated the measure on a tie vote. The district’s attorney argued in legal filings and during a court trial that the ballots should not be counted because voter intent was not clear.

A judge sided with the district and the margin of victory remained five votes.

The school district already paid about $4,150 for legal expenses incurred in November. Additional expenses are expected for work in early January.

The legal bills are being paid with general fund revenue, Finance Director Dan Pyan said.

The opponents’ campaign committee, South Washington Citizens for Progress, reported more than $9,246 in expenses for December and January. That included $4,550 in surety bond and court fees, $2,600 in attorney fees and a $1,500 retainer to a forensic handwriting expert whose testimony it wanted to use in court. The judge did not allow the testimony.

The committee was run by Woodbury residents Susan Richardson and Andrea Mayer-Bruestle and Cottage Grove resident Leilani Holmstadt.

The pro-referendum Vote YES 833 committee reported a $900 legal bill on its year-end campaign finance filing. That committee hired an attorney to argue against including the disputed ballots at the canvassing board level.

Scott Wente

Scott Wente has been editor at the South Washington County Bulletin since 2011. He worked as a reporter at other Forum Communications newspapers from 2003 to 2011.

(651) 459-7600
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