The Columbus Board of Education has agreed that it cannot hold private sessions to meet with an attorney to discuss its data scandal unless it is to discuss pending court action involving the district.
The board illegally closed a series of meetings last year to discuss the district’s data scandal, in violation of the state Open Meetings Act. The Dispatch filed a lawsuit in support of the public’s right to attend meetings of public bodies.
A settlement signed yesterday by Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Julie M. Lynch restricts the board from using a broad claim of attorney-client privilege to keep the public out of meetings about the data scandal. Board members had claimed such a privilege when they met in private with Robert “Buzz” Trafford, a lawyer they hired to advise them on the data scandal in 2012.
“The Columbus Board of Education has taken another important step in moving the school district forward,” board President Gary Baker said in a statement. “Settling this litigation and putting it behind us allows us to focus on our priorities.”
The board has spent or authorized more than $300,000 so far to defend itself in the case, even as the district faces $50 million in cuts and has placed seven schools on the chopping block.
The board also agreed to pay The Dispatch’s legal fees, totaling $170,000, but the newspaper waived them “for the benefit of the public and the community,” according to the settlement document.
A signal that The Dispatch would win the case came in March, when Franklin County Common Pleas Magistrate Tim McCarthy issued a preliminary order telling the school board to stop such meetings.