College district seeks to reduce legal costs

Coast Community College District trustees are taking steps to rein in the district's legal expenditures.

Trustees will vote on whether to amend the board's rules for accessing the district's legal counsel during their Nov. 20 meeting, according to the board agenda.

The board of trustees formed a committee in September to discuss ways the district could reduce legal costs, which Trustee David Grant called "just too high."

The district pays about $360,000 annually in legal fees, Grant said.

"We want more classes for students, we want more full-time faculty," said board President Lorraine Prinsky. "We want to put the money back into education."

The board hired the law firm Burke, Williams and Sorensen, which employs the district's attorney Jack Lipton, in 2008 to serve as Coast's general counsel.

Trustees also adopted a policy in 2009 that states that Lipton is responsible for the oversight of all legal activities involving the district.

The committee, made of up Grant, Prinsky and Chancellor Andrew Jones, is proposing that the board amend the policy, allowing them to assign and reduce Lipton's specific duties.

"What that does is it gives the board president, board secretary and chancellor the authority to use some other low-cost or no-cost alternative," Prinsky said.

Those alternatives could include utilizing the Orange County Department of Education's counsel or relying on the district's risk management office to answer specific legal questions.

The committee is also proposing that the board limit the number of individuals authorized to contact Lipton with legal questions.

"If you look at the old policy, basically anyone in our district could refer a legal issue to general counsel," Prinsky said.

Grant agrees that the frequency of calls to Lipton could be an aspect that has cost the district money.

"If you call and ask for an opinion from Jack [Lipton] the clock starts when you say hello," he said. "That's just how it works, and it adds up."

The district hasn't always retained outside counsel. In the late '70s and early '80s, the district employed a salaried full-time attorney.

The district also went without an attorney for 15 years beginning in 1990, Grant said.

But officials said some district issues were neglected during that time.

"We're like the size of a city with all we have going on," Prinsky said. "But it's important to find ways to limit expenses."

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