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Who paid for football lawsuit?

By Mike Genet mike.genet@examiner.net

When the Blue Springs School District sued the Jackson County Health Department two months ago regarding its pandemic restrictions for gatherings, ultimately leading to revised regulations by the county, the district said donations from the community covered all the legal fees, with no district funds expended.

The school district, however, has not said what the total was for legal bills or who paid them. 

District spokesperson Katie Woolf said the district had nothing to do with any fees paid, as payment went directly to the firm Oswald Roam & Rew, which represented the district and multiple co-plaintiffs in the case. Because of that, Woolf said, the school district does not know how many people ultimately donated.

“We had people who expressed interest in contributing toward the case, and they were encouraged to contact the firm,” Woolf said. “If someone called us, they were told to directly contact the law firm.”

When asked about the total or individuals who donated, the district deferred directly to Oswald Roam & Rew, and an attorney there said the firm could not provide such information due to state rules.

Blue Springs School District Board of Education members Bobby Hawk and president Rhonda Gilstrap either deferred comment to Woolf or did not return messages seeking comment. 

When the district sued in early September, asking for a temporary restraining order against the Health Department’s 100-person attendance limit for outdoor gatherings, Sherri Haupt was listed as a co-plaintiff. After a judge denied that request and a trial date was set, Bryan Haupt, Tim Wilkerson and Jeanette Sharp were added as co-plaintiffs. 

The trial was canceled when the Health Department issued revised regulations, allowing more people to attend football games and other outdoor events, and both parties dismissed the case. The result not only allowed for more attendance at Blue Springs school events but with other districts in the county.

Jason Rew, one of the attorneys who represented the school district and individual plaintiffs in the case, said that because the legal fees for the case were not paid with public funds, and individual citizens were co-represented, the total is confidential and protected under the Missouri Rules of Professional Responsibility. 

According to the district’s engagement letter with the law firm, attorney Julius Oswald was paid $225 an hour and attorney Jason Rew was paid $205 an hour. The firm notes those rates are less than those attorneys normally bill, but does not specify by how much. 

Attempts to reach Bryan Haupt or Tim Wilkerson over the course of several weeks were unsuccessful.

Woolf said this arrangement for paying legal costs was an “outlier” for the school district compared with other cases with legal fees.

Before the lawsuit and then the revised regulations, other school districts besides Blue Springs had severely curtailed attendance at football games. The Raytown-Raytown South game and William Chrisman-Truman football games were played at Staley High School, where Clay’s County’s guidelines allowed for more attendance at the time. With the revised regulations, no further games got moved.