The Orleans Parish School Board’s property lawyers are at odds with a charter school’s lawyers regarding a legal memo given to the charter two weeks before it bought a School Board building.
In the April 21 legal memo, which The Lens received through a public-records request, Adams and Reese lawyers wrote to Lycée Français de la Nouvelle-Orléans that the charter could easily assign its purchase rights to a third-party development firm.
They finished the memo with what seems like a stamp of approval from outside School Board lawyers.
“Without naming Lycée or Priestly, we also discussed the possibility of a charter assigning its purchase agreement of an OPSB site to a development firm,” the memo states. “OPSB counsel did not think that there would be an issue with such an arrangement.”
But that’s not how the conversation went, according to Rose Hager, a director and attorney with Aaron and Gianna PLC who was on the other end of the line. Her firm frequently represents the School Board in property matters.
Hager recalls having a brief conversation with Adams and Reese lawyer Marshall Hevron about applicable laws, but she says never gave blanket approval on behalf of the School Board.
Charter schools with small budgets may have trouble securing the millions of dollars it would take to renovate a long-empty school such as Priestley. One alternative, is to sell the property to a private developer and then rent the renovated building.
Hager suspects the lawyers were attempting to clear the way for Lycee to sell Priestley directly to a third-party to renovate. In the end, though, the Lycee board bought the property directly for $425,000 on May 4, and is still considering its options for renovation.
Lycée’s Priestley committee meets tonight. There is a discussion item called “financing options,” but no action items are listed.
Attorney Lee Reid, who also works for Adams and Reese, has worked with Lycee for a few years. He and Hevron authored the legal advice to the school.
“We believe that it reflects the conversation we had with them,” Reid said.
Hager thinks the memo is misleading.
“This whole opinion gives your client, and the public the opinion we waved the wand and said OK, and we did not,” Hager told The Lens last week, retelling a conversation she had earlier in the day with Adams and Reese attorneys.
Giving this kind of advice to charter schools is not something the School Board would do, she said, especially because it carries the risk of potential liability.
“Once the chartering group buys it, the School Board does not issue any opinions on what the school does with it,” she said.
Hager says she did discuss different aspects of the law that covers property sales between the School Board and charters with Hevron.
While it is true that private buyers sometimes assign purchase agreements at auctions, that would not hold true for a chartering group, she said.
“We don’t want our client to be under the impression that we gave them some kind of legal opinion,” Hager said. “One, we can’t. It’s a conflict. Two, we don’t want one charter school saying ‘Well, they got preferential treatment and we did not.’ ”
Reid said the memo did not intend to speak for the School Board.
“Nobody speaks on behalf of the School Board. Only the School Board can do that,” he said. “We know that and would convey that to any client.”
Lycée board Chairwoman Alysson Mills, an attorney, said the matter was a discussion between the two firms and that she was not party to the conversation.