Was Lakewood Board of Education’s Hiring of Attorney Inzelbuch Legal? NJ Attorney General Says “Maybe Not.”

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The letter below was sent to me by a kind reader who wishes to remain anonymous. This letter was procured from Lakewood Public Schools under the Freedom of Information Act. It is addressed to Lakewood’s superintendent Laura Winters and Board President Moshe Bender, and references the Board’s recent hiring of attorney Michael Inzelbuch at $600,000 per year, plus numerous benefits. For background, see this post where  I catalogue the Board’s disregard of the rules of governance by conceding to Inzelbuch’s list of “contingencies,” or conditions upon which he’ll deign to stop suing the district on behalf of ultra-Orthodox parents who rely on the public district to pay tuition to unaccountable Jewish day schools, and instead serve as  Board Attorney and “Non-Public Special Education Consultant. Upon the Board’s approval of the contract, the Education Law Center sent a formal complaint to the Office of  the State Attorney General; the Acting Director is Michelle Miller. See here for more on this.

October 5, 2017
Moshe Bender, President
Lakewood Board of Education
Laura A. Winters, Superintendent
Lakewood Public School District
200 Ramsey Avenue
Lakewood, New Jersey 08701

Re: Lakewood BOE Legal Services Contract
Dear Mr. Bender and Ms. Winters:

This office recently received a referral (attached) from the Education Law Center raising serious questions about the contract engaging Michael Inzelbuch, Esq. to provide legal services that was approved by the Lakewood Board of Education on June 14,2017. Our initial review of the documents provided suggests that this contract may not be consistent with Department of Education regulations. [Emphasis my own.]

The contract, which runs from August 17,2017 through June 30, 2018. provides for an annual retainer of $600,000 to be paid in twelve equal payments, as well as an immediate payment of $29,000 for Mr. Inzelbuch and his family’s medical and prescription coverage. Under the contract, the Board witl also compensate Mr. Inzelbuch $350.00 per hour for “litigation services” provided to the district, and will reimburse him for certain expenses such as filing fees, travel, parking and photocopying. The contract also permits Mr. Inzelbuch to serve as co-counsel, at $200.00 per hour, in cases where the Board’s insurer assigns counsel or the Board
appoints special counsel.

As you are aware, the Department of Education’s accountability regulations require boards of education to establish by policy strategies to minimize the cost of professional services, including legal services. See N.J.A.C. 6A:23A-5.2. In addition to establishing a maximum dollar limit for each type of professional service, and imposing other requirements to ensure the prudent use of legal services, the regulations prohibit “advance payments” lbr legal services. N.J.A.C. 6A:23 A-5.2(a)(4). Instead, the regulations require that contracts for legal services describe in detail the services to be provided, and authorize payment only upon presentation of an invoice itemizing the services actually provided in the billing period. Ibid.

In tight of the foregoing, please provide this office no later than october 30, 2017 with the district’s position regarding the compliance of the contract with Mr. Inzelbuch with the Department’s accountability regulations, and in particular N.J.A.C. 6A:23A-5.2. ‘,l’hat analysis should also include a description of the procurement process undertaken by the Board to award the legal services contract at issue. Upon receipt of the information, this office will conduct a thorough review and make appropriate referrals to the Department of Education or other entities,
as may be warranted.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Very truly yours,
Michelle Miller
Acting Director
Division of Law

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