Photo: 210506-news-convalnewspending ConVal lawsuit: AG overspent $2.4 million on outside lawyers

ConVal’s lawyer, Michael Tierney, said in new documents filed in the education funding lawsuit that the state has overspent its outside expense account by more than $2.4 million.  

The New Hampshire Attorney General has overspent the money set aside for lawyers by more than $2.4 million, and it is seeking to spend more in the ConVal education funding lawsuit, according to documents filed in court this week.

Michael Tierney, the attorney for the Contoocook Valley Regional School District, says in a motion opposing the state’s hiring of outside lawyers that the Attorney General’s Office is budgeted for $350,000 a year for outside services. The state claims it can make the hires without permission from the Finance Committee or the Executive Council.

“The State neglects to mention, however, that it has already exceeded the $350,000 line item for the 2021 Fiscal Year by over $2.4 million and has had to go through the time consuming and uncertain process of obtaining first Fiscal Committee and then Executive Council approval,” Tierney wrote.

The Attorney General’s Office wants to bring in private attorneys John Munich and Nicci Warr from the St. Louis corporate law firm, Stinson. New Hampshire’s Senior Assistant Attorney General Anthony Galdieri said Munich and Warr are subject matter experts and will provide assistance for the state in a complex case.

Galdieri filed a motion seeking permission to add Warr and Munich to the case, saying that he could tap the funds the state sets aside for such services. According to Galdieri, the state would not need to go to the Executive Council for permission to make the hires.

“The Attorney General’s Office may use, and, from time to time, does use, the money within that fund for, among other things, the retention of specialized counsel to assist with certain litigation matters,” Galdieri wrote.

According to documents Tierney filed in court, the Attorney General’s Office already went to the Executive Council in November seeking an additional $775,000 in funds for other cases, and was rejected. Instead, the council approved $300,000. Tierney said that the attorney general must go to the New Hampshire Fiscal Committee and the Executive Council to make the hires, and the approval is not a foregone conclusion.

“Fiscal Committee Members or Executive Counselors could decide that the costs of retaining St. Louis counsel to determine the meaning and application of Part II, Article 83 of the New Hampshire Constitution is not justified where New Hampshire counsel could more efficiently (and promptly) litigate a case concerning the meaning of the New Hampshire Constitution and the costs of educating New Hampshire school children,” Tierney wrote.

The lawsuit has ConVal and several other districts asking the state to bump up the adequate education grant from $3,600 per pupil per year to closer to $10,000 per pupil. Tierney and the other districts claim that the $10,000 figure comes from using the state’s own data and formula to determine the costs that are supposed to be covered by the legislature.

Cheshire County Superior Court Judge David Ruoff initially ruled in 2019 in favor of the school districts, but he left the determination of an adequate education grant amount up to the Legislature. Ruoff found that the state was not meeting the obligations to provide an adequate education under the prior Claremont decisions from the 1980s and 1990s.

The case was appealed and in March the New Hampshire Supreme Court sent the ConVal lawsuit back to Ruoff. Both sides will now argue at a bench trial slated for sometime next year and Ruoff will then be tasked with determining the cost of an adequate education.

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