Out-of-state lawyers approved to defend state in ConVal funding lawsuit

  • A ConVal School District bus. (Benji Rosen/ Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Benji Rosen

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 6/7/2021 3:32:38 PM

A judge ruled that the state can hire private lawyers in their defense of ConVal’s education funding lawsuit in an order filed on Friday. However, the out-of-state lawyers may risk working unpaid if the state encounters difficulties in funding their positions, according to the order. 

ConVal filed the initial lawsuit in 2019. Fifteen other New Hampshire school districts have joined the case since then. They maintain the state does not meet its constitutional obligation to provide adequate funding for all students, arguing that base adequacy is not sufficient to fund an adequate education and falls far short of funding services, positions, and items that the State requires school districts to provide. In 2019 districts received $3,636 per student in base adequacy. In March, a judge allowed ConVal and its co-plaintiffs to present factual evidence that the state underfunds education in upcoming hearings, likely scheduled for next summer.

In late April, the New Hampshire Attorney General’s office requested hiring two lawyers from St. Louis, Missouri to serve as co-counsels in the state’s defense, in part due to their education litigation experience, according to court documents. ConVal and the other plaintiffs objected, saying the state can defend itself, the move could delay the case proceedings, and arguing that the state should instead be using its resources to provide adequate funding for students, ConVal’s attorney Michael Tierney said. 

Although the state is allotted an annual $350,000 to pay for outside legal services, they exceeded that in 2021 by 2.4 million, according to the plaintiff’s objection, and therefore the state will need to seek approval to fund the lawyers via the Fiscal Committee and the Executive Council, “a time consuming and uncertain process.”

Cheshire Superior Court judge David Ruoff ruled that the state could hire their desired attorneys in an order sent to all parties on Friday. However, he also noted that, once a trial date is set, no legal counsel can withdraw from the case without court approval, and if the state runs into any kind of trouble funding the out-of-state lawyers’ positions, they may have to continue working on the case for free. 


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