Is the school board “the puppet of its hired counsel”?

When the Arlington ISD conducted a hearing to consider the proposed nonrenewal of a teacher’s contract, it retained attorney Dennis Eichelbaum to assist the board. Mr. Eichelbaum was to “make any rulings that may be required for the efficient presentation of this complaint.”  His rulings were not final, however. The majority of the board could overrule him.  The district also retained another attorney to assist the administration in presenting the case to the board.  The attorneys were from the same law firm.   The teacher’s lawyer objected to this, claiming that it was inherently unfair to the teacher.

The Commissioner did not think so.  Consistent with earlier decisions on this issue, Commissioner Morath held that “the involvement of Attorneys Eichelbaum and Thomas did not cause an unfair hearing for Petitioner.”  This ruling was accompanied by the observation that “It can hardly be said that a school board is the puppet of its hired counsel.”  As a lawyer who has worked with many school boards, I can certainly attest to that.

Obviously the district could have used lawyers from different law firms, which would have eliminated this issue from consideration. But the track record of the Commissioner is consistent on the issue.  Once again, the Commissioner here finds no unfairness in the use of two lawyers from the same firm.  It’s Hernandez v. Arlington ISD, decided by Commissioner Morath on January 27, 2020.  It’s Docket No. 024-R1-12-2019.


Tomorrow:  Toolbox Tuesday!!