Monday, March 2, 2009 | Lawyers from a firm that has received millions of dollars in business from a public agency that handles lawsuits for school districts have, at least twice in recent years, helped it screen potential employees who later oversaw outside attorneys’ work.
The Risk Management Joint Powers Authority, a public agency composed of dozens of local school districts and run through the San Diego County Office of Education, has paid the law firm of Stutz, Artiano, Shinoff & Holtz nearly $7 million between July 2002 and July 2008 to handle lawsuits brought against school districts.
Two shareholders in the firm, Daniel Shinoff and Jeffery Morris, have helped screen job applicants for the agency by sitting on the first of two interview panels that candidates undergo before being hired. Such interviewers don’t make the final hiring decisions, but they narrow the hiring pool by asking predetermined questions provided by the human resources department and ranking candidates based on their responses.
Including the attorneys in the interview process means that in at least two instances, an employee has owed his or her job, in part, to one of the firms that he or she is hired to monitor.
The practice is among a bevy of complaints lodged in a lawsuit by a former authority employee, Rodger Hartnett, who alleges that the Stutz Artiano firm received a disproportionate share of work “based on personal relationships” in the office rather than merit. Harnett, who was interviewed for his job by a panel that included Shinoff, claims in his wrongful termination suit against the County Office of Education that he was fired because of his complaints about Stutz Artiano.
Several legal and ethics experts cautioned that the practice of having the contracted attorneys aid in the hiring process was fraught with the risk that employees would feel they owed loyalty to the attorneys.