6 things lawyers billed for during their $226K probe linked to Holocaust principal scandal

Palm Beach Post | By Andrew Marra | April 11, 2023

Some Palm Beach County School Board members were shocked to learn they’d paid $226,000 for a law firm to produce a 29-page report that, they say, didn’t address the questions it was supposed to.

The school board’s inspector general called the report — ordered up after claims of conflicts of interest and coercion emerged in a case tied to Spanish River High Principal William Latson’s refusal to call the Holocaust a historical fact — “a gross waste of public funds.”

How did the law firm, Holland & Knight, run up such a high bill for a report that left its clients so dissatisfied?

To start with, the firm had three people focused on the case, and they each billed separately.

William Shepherd, a partner in the firm, billed $660 an hour. Jeffrey Schacknow, an associate, rang up $460 an hour. Diane Nixon, a paralegal, cost taxpayers $245 an hour.

To get a better sense of how they spent their time, The Palm Beach Post reviewed invoices the firm sent the school board as their investigation proceeded. Here are six examples.

The Post reached out to Holland & Knight for comment, but they declined, likely saving taxpayers hundreds of dollars.

$10,000 to prep and conduct a 3-hour interview

Vicki Evans-Pare, the district’s former director of employee and labor relations, was a major figure in the case Holland & Knight was hired to investigate, and it appears from invoices that they spent about three hours speaking with her in September.

Why did that interview cost taxpayers so much? In large part, because the firm had two attorneys and a paralegal attend it — and they all billed separately.

$660 an hour gets you a lot, but not, it seems, an attorney who can conduct interviews alone.

In addition to the interview time, the legal team charged thousands for “preparations.”

$264 to ‘consider issues’

Firm invoices show Shepherd is a considerate man, but that consideration isn’t free.

In September, he billed the school district for what he characterized as a spell of contemplative thinking.

In the invoice he said he was charging taxpayers 25 minutes to “consider issues (regarding) upcoming witness meetings.”

$200 to talk with a colleague

Among the things Holland & Knight bills for: when their attorneys talk to each other.

In July, Shepherd billed the school board for what he said was an 18-minute discussion with Schacknow, the associate working on the case, about “ongoing investigative developments.”

Interestingly, Schacknow did not appear to bill for the same conversation, begging the question of whether he was listening.

A portion of an invoice from the law firm Holland & Knight to the Palm Beach County School Board.
A portion from an invoice from the law firm Holland & Knight to the Palm Beach County School Board. Palm Beach County School Board District

$2,000 to think up ‘topics and questions’

In June, associate attorney Alex Englander billed the school board $2,277 for spending 4.6 hours to “develop investigative topics and questions.” No bill, notably, for time spent conceiving helpful invoice descriptions.

$400 to request documents and digits?

In August, Shepherd billed $396 for spending 36 minutes discussing what appeared to the need for documents and contact information from the school district.

The invoice says simply “discussion (with) client contact (regarding) document needs and witness interview contacts.”

Here’s hoping he got them.

$50 to register an online account

Law firms are just like us — they have to burn time creating online accounts. Except when they do, they bill for it.

In May, Holland & Knight invoiced the school board $49 for the time it took a paralegal to create an account on an online document-sharing service, apparently “in preparation for uploading” records.

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