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Schools system hires own attorney

August 14, 2002|by DAN KULIN /Staff Writer

dank@herald-mail.com

The Washington County Board of Education voted Tuesday to hire an attorney from the Baltimore school system to be the first in-house lawyer for Washington County Public Schools.

School Board President Edward Forrest said now is the right time to bring a lawyer on staff because of the cost of hiring outside attorneys in recent years, and to make it easier to get a lawyer's advice.

The board approved appointing Tammy L. Turner as the school system's chief legal counsel. Forrest said Turner will start at the end of August and will be paid $93,000 a year.

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Turner, of Randallstown, Md., has been an associate counsel for the Baltimore City Public School System since 1999, according to her resume.

From 1995 to 1999, Turner was an assistant to the president of Morgan State University in Baltimore. She was an assistant county attorney for Baltimore County from 1989 to 1995, her resume said.

Turner could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

For Washington County schools, Turner will be responsible for providing general legal advice, reviewing contracts and negotiating labor contracts.

Previously, the board paid outside attorneys by the hour for legal work.

In 1999-2000, legal fees were $57,000. Legal costs jumped to $108,000 in 2000-2001, and were $90,000 in 2001-2002, Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan said.

Turner also will take over the duties of the human resources supervisor/chief negotiator position, which is vacant, Morgan said.

The negotiator position cost the school system $93,000, including the cost of benefits, she said.

The total cost of employing Turner, including salary plus benefits, will be $109,000, Morgan said.

The school system will reserve $20,000 in case additional lawyers are needed to deal with special or unusual cases, Morgan said.

She said the hiring of Turner should save the school system $62,000 a year.

"Because we're living in such a litigious society, we reached a point where having our own legal counsel was necessary to save money," Morgan said.

When lawyers are being paid by the hour, as has been the case, "you hesitate to make a phone call to an attorney," she said.

With an attorney in house, staff and the board will have more access to a lawyer, Forrest said.

Forrest said four candidates for the position were interviewed by a selection committee, of which he was a member.

He said Turner is "extremely articulate with a good background in school law."

Morgan, who was chief academic officer in Baltimore schools before coming to Washington County, said she was surprised to see that Turner applied for the position.

Morgan said creating a chief legal counsel position and having the person in that post be responsible for the duties of the chief negotiator and most of the legal work is part of the School Board's overall effort to reduce costs and staff positions.

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