Dallas ISD Trustees Want to Crack Down on Settlements for Fired Employees. Bad Idea!
Dallas School Trustee Dan Micciche, probably not sharing his thinking on the costs of negotiated settlements versus full-on litigation.
Hey, can I just ask something? Dallas ISD trustees are slated to discuss a proposal barring pay-outs to terminated or otherwise departing employees unless those settlements have been voted on and approved by the school board. The political message is that the administration has been paying people settlements when it should have just told them not to let the door hit them in the ass.
So have those school trustees - the door-ass contingent - asked the district's lawyers what the history is on litigation where there has been no settlement and no settlement offer? I mean, isn't that the whole question? Or is this strictly about posturing in front of the cameras no matter how much damage it does to the district?
Are we asked to believe that the school district hands five- and six-figure settlements to fired people just for fun? C'mon. We all know the answer to that one. They make settlement offers to avoid the expense and risk of litigation.
Doesn't mean they're right every time. Maybe they've been too chicken, handing out too much money too quickly. Could happen. But that's the math you have to do, right? You don't get to just say, "We're mad at that person, so don't offer her any money. Tell her after the door hits in the ass the next time we'll see that ass is in court."
Then what? What do we think will happen to the district's ass down at the courthouse? That's the calculation, right? Here is what the calculation is not: the calculation is not, "Let's not offer settlements to people in cases where elected school trustees might be able to score a few points politically by going hardcore about it on TV." That's a formula for losing your ass at court.
Maybe they've got this covered. Perhaps the school board will raise these very questions tonight. They might suggest an audit or study to compare litigation and settlement costs at DISD with other big Texas school districts.
But their remarks so far have not been reassuring. Take, for example, board member Dan Micciche. He's a lawyer with Akin Gump, a top firm. But so far the remarks I have seen attributed to him on this subject make him sound like he's never heard of the costs and risks of litigation versus settlements.
The settlements that spurred this issue recently were for $80,000 and $22,000 paid to the former head of personnel and a top assistant after they were fired over naughty "instant messages" turned up by The Dallas Morning News in an Open Records sweep.
"I am appalled by what we saw in those ... messages and outraged that the employees who were involved received severance payments," Micciche told the News recently.
In another chat, the News said Micciche told them, "he disagreed with those settlements" and that the people who received them "deserved no money."
Sure, but statements like that are all gravy for a politician. Person A got caught in an embarrassing episode. I, Politician A, am opposed to embarrassing situations. Therefore I decree that Person A be heaved out the door without a penny. That's all Dudley Do-Right stuff for the cameras.
But it seems to me an experienced lawyer like Micciche owes the organization a little better service than that. I don't see how he gets away with even bringing up the question of settlements without telling us what he damn well knows as an attorney: settlements are not paid because anybody deserves them. They are paid because paying is a better financial bet for the entity than going to court.
And does Micciche, a lawyer, seriously believe that the people best qualified to do the math on this are a board of elected officials? Democracy's wonderful thing, but does Micciche, a lawyer, truly believe this is the right kind of calculus to be turned over to a committee of non-experts worried about their own next elections?
I left messages for Micciche yesterday on his cell and office phones. Didn't hear back.
Think about this in terms of two hypotheticals. One: a guy on a bike with a history of bicycle accident lawsuits runs into Micciche's mom's tree and threatens to sue. The guy says he'll settle for $500.
Micciche says (this is hypothetical, remember), "Mom, you didn't do anything wrong, but $500 is less than what it will cost you to pay a lawyer to write a letter and take two phone calls. Let's pay this sleaze-ball and move on."
Two: a guy on a bicycle with a history of bicycle accident lawsuits runs into a Dallas school district tree. He says he'll settle for $500. Micciche calls up The Dallas Morning News (this is hypothetical) and says, "I, Daniel J, Micciche, defender of the children, refuse to pay a penny to this bicycling bandit."
Get the difference? It's whose money is at stake.
The thing that worries me about the no-settlements talk is that it sounds like something people say when it's not their money. I guess we'll find out tonight.