OTTAWA COUNTY, MI – The Allendale Board of Education is considering hiring other law firms to represent the district in addition to the Kallman Legal Group, which was recently hired as the district’s legal counsel in a split vote this month.
At a work session Monday, Jan. 23, the board discussed the possibility of hiring more than one law firm to ensure the school district has access to legal expertise on a wide range of specialized areas, such as the handling of school elections, bond refinancing, Title IX issues and more.
The discussion over the district’s legal needs on Monday came after a previous Jan. 9 meeting where the board voted 4-3 to replace the district’s longtime legal counsel, Thrun Law, with a Lansing-based firm called Kallman Legal Group.
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The Kallman Legal Group has a reputation for championing conservative causes in Michigan, challenging a number of the state’s shutdown orders during the pandemic. Allendale Public Schools is currently the only school district under the Kallman Legal Group’s representation, attorney David Kallman previously told MLive/The Grand Rapids Press.
After the board was hired by the Kallman Legal Group, Allendale Superintendent Garth Cooper said he called Kallman to discuss areas where the school district has traditionally needed legal expertise, such as school elections, bond refinancing, special education needs, Title IX, and employee needs.
Cooper told the board that Kallman had suggested the district hire other law firms on retainer for certain areas where Kallman didn’t have as much experience, like in elections and bond refinancing.
Cooper said it’s common for school districts to have more than one law firm on retainer. He said he’s spoken with superintendents from around Ottawa and Kent counties, and that most schools in the area have hired several law firms for expertise or second opinions on specific legal matters.
“I’ve learned that there’s really some good strategy in having maybe more than one law firm at our disposal,” he told the board Monday.
Kyle Mayer, superintendent of the Ottawa Area Intermediate School District, also told MLive that it’s common practice for districts to work with several law firms that can provide knowledge on various specific legal matters a school may deal with.
The board is expected to make any decisions regarding the school district’s legal counsel at the next regular board meeting, on Feb. 13. Cooper is planning to give the board a presentation about the costs associated with the four main law firms he says are used by most schools across Ottawa County: Thrun Law, Miller Johnson, Clark Hill and Lusk Albertson.
Trustee Liz Ramey expressed interest in the suggestion on Monday, saying that she liked the idea of the district using multiple law firms for different purposes, but that she wanted to be cautious about how much it would cost the district.
The Jan. 9 votes to replace the district’s legal counsel was approved by four board members: Corey Mango, Ramey, Anna Hendricks and Kevin Holstege. Trustees Josh Thurkettle, Kim Cannata and Pam DeJonge voted against the motion.
During Monday’s work session, Thurkettle made a suggestion that the board accepted the Jan. 9 votes to hire Kallman Legal Group. He said the board should consider the district’s legal representation and make another vote on the Feb. 13 meetings after the board has learned more about other law firms in the area.
The only way the vote could have been rescinded is if one of the four trustees who voted in favor of the motion made a motion to rescind the vote, Thurkettle said. That did not happen on Monday, so the board will keep its retainer of Kallman Legal Group and continue to consider hiring any additional law firms.
DeJonge expressed concerns on Monday over the hiring of Kallman Legal Group. She said the entire board did not have enough information about the law firm before the Jan. 9 votes.
“I feel that the board, the district, and the community were tremendously misled, and for lack of better terms, lied to,” DeJonge commented during the work session.
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