The end of Sutherland Asbill & Brennan's general counsel representation of DeKalb County schools came because the school board was clamping down on legal costs, a Sutherland partner told the board.
"Because of the significant financial challenges facing the District, we have suggested that the Board retain another firm to serve as its general counsel, and we have recommended that the Board begin planning to allow us to transition out of our current role," Sutherland partner Allegra Lawrence-Hardy wrote in an email to the board obtained by the Daily Report through an open records request.
The school board, which retained Sutherland in fall 2009, paid the firm $1.5 million in the 2010 fiscal year, $2.4 million in 2011 and $2.5 million in 2012, according to a school board document provided under a previous open records request.
Sutherland shares the school district's legal duties with Alexander & Associates, which handles personnel matters. Alexander & Associates has been paid between $1.2 million and $1.5 million annually since 2009.
"Understanding the current fiscal challenges facing the school system, Sutherland approached the Board and suggested we work together to find another solution for its legal needs. The Board is grateful for Sutherland's service, and we look forward to working together through the transition," said Eugene Walker, the school board chairman, and Sutherland in a joint statement.
King & Spalding also has been representing the school district in epic litigation against contractor Heery International, with the firm receiving more than $18 million since 2007.
The school district spent $4.7 million for legal costs last year and budgeted $10.5 million for the current fiscal year as the Heery litigation nears trial.
The school board will consider hiring another external general counsel or bringing its legal work in-house, said spokesman Jeff Dickerson.