As a pair of Chicago attorneys finger District 209 school board President Chris Welch for slander, Welch has avoided paying his attorneys fees, instead passing bills of more than $46,000 to taxpayers.
For the second time since he was named a defendant for posting allegedly libelous statements on the Internet, the board president persuaded his colleagues in the school district to cover his costs. At Monday’s board meeting, Welch turned in two invoices from the law firm Richardson & Mackoff totaling more than $24,200.
In June, Welch handed over more than $22,400 in bills for the same case. The district has spent $46,719 on a lawsuit for which neither the district nor the school board is a party.
“And I still object,” board member Theresa Kelly said before the Aug. 18 meeting. “This is a personal matter and the district should not be responsible for it.”
Kelly was one of two board members to vote against the expense Monday, and was joined by board Secretary Sue Henry. In June, both Kelly and Henry voted not to pay the bills.
As he did in June, board member Brian Cross abstained from the vote Monday. All others on the board-Robert Cox, Robin Foreman, Daniel Adams and Welch-voted to approve the expense.
Welch did not return phone calls seeking comment on the matter and quickly left the building at the end of Monday’s meeting. He did make a brief statement that all board members are entitled to reimbursement.
Superintendent Nettie Collins-Hart declined to comment on the issue, saying that any communication would be handled through the district’s public relations office.
TaQuoya Kennedy, the district’s spokesperson, said the same justifications for seeking reimbursement in June apply to the latest round of bills.
“It’s the same rationale,” Kennedy said. “It hasn’t changed.”
An attorney for the school district has argued that it is appropriate that the district pay Welch’s legal fees because Welch is a public official.
“The issue that Chris Welch – and any other board member – is a board member 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” District 209 attorney Michael DeBartolo said in June. “If Chris Welch comments on anything, some people may take it as him communicating as Chris Welch, president of the District 209 Board of Education.”
Welch is being sued by the school district’s former attorneys, Burt Odelson and Mark Sterk, for statements he made anonymously on a blog soon after the plaintiffs were fired in 2007. According to DeBartolo, the court will decide whether Welch’s attempts to hide his identity preclude him from protection under the state’s indemnification laws.
The Web site on which Welch posted his statements is not affiliated with District 209.
According to paperwork filed with the Cook County Circuit Court, Welch has admitted to posting the statements in question. Evidence submitted in the case indicates Welch used a computer in his office at Sanchez, Daniels & Hoffman, a Chicago law firm where he is employed, to post the statements. His co-defendant in the suit, Emily Robinson, is an employee at the same firm.