By Sally Absher


At last week’s Board of Education meeting, Karen Carson again admonished the Law Department for not having provided the full legal opinion requested on January 6 related to the 2003 Order of Compromise. Many people are curious why the school board sent the Law Department on this errand to begin with. There have been at least four legal opinions issued in the past three years on this document, which resulted from the 2001 lawsuit against the County.

And just like in the 2001 lawsuit, school board members Carson, Sanger, Harris, Deathridge, and Fugate don’t like the fact that the Board can’t hire its own attorney. Or more specifically, the Board can’t hire an attorney who will let them do what they want, and the heck with the Knox County Charter and those pesky T.C.A. statutes.

In a nutshell, then Superintendent Lindsey didn’t like Law DirectorMoyer’s opinion to a similar question, and filed suit in October of 2001 against the Knox County Commission, Commissioners individually, the County Mayor, the County Trustee and the County Law Director.

The Board sought a declaration on several issues including the school board’s perceived right to hire its own attorney under T.C.A. § 49-2-203(b)(5). The Board argued that state law took precedence over the charter. Chancellor Bell did not agree, and four months and $267,000 later, Chancellor Bell dismissed the Board’s lawsuit.

Chancellor Bell held that the charter of Knox County [passed by vote of its citizens and which adopted and incorporated the private act creating an elected law director] constituted an opt out of T.C.A. § 49-2-203(b)(5).

But the Board filed an appeal, joined by the TN School Boards Association. Prior to the conclusion of proceedings, the school board approached the Knox County defendants about avoiding an appellate court decision. Thus was born the “Order of Compromise.” This settlement cost the taxpayers another $283,000.

Absent the specific prerequisites set out in the Order of Compromise, Chancellor Bell’s holding that Knox County had opted out of the provisions of the statute is still in force and effect. The issue as to the right of the board to hire an additional attorney is res judicata – once adjudicated, is final and may not be re-litigated.

Most of the current school board members attended the 2014 Board Retreat, where Chuck Cagle, known as the “School Boards’ Attorney” (he represents about 70 school boards across the state) stated that the issue has been litigated and the Order of Compromise  governs the issue of the hiring of an attorney.

School board member Traci Sanger accused the Law Director of playing politics, and then went so far as to say Armstrong was being insubordinate because he had not delivered the opinion in a timely manner.

Deputy Law Director David Buuck explained that the Law Department has been extremely busy with a number of more pressing issues including, specific to the school system, 16 lawsuits stemming from the December 2014 bus wreck that killed two students and a teacher’s aide, two additional bus wrecks since that time, and the OCR complaint filed by the local NAACP.

It is interesting that the Law Director’s opponent in the County Primary election works for the firm that brought the 2001 lawsuit against the County. It is also interesting that Karen Carson contributed $500 from her failed Karen Carson for State House campaign account to Armstrong’s opponent.

It seems like some school board members want a law director to do whatever they want, when and how they want it, regardless of the legal ramifications.