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$800,000 to firm in ten months during 2008! Hearing officers Michael Hernandez and Respicio Vazquez have major conflict of interest... Firm is largest outside attorney for Chicago Board of Education

Two of the four hearing officers who conducted hearings on school turnarounds, closings, consolidations and phase outs in Chicago between January 26, 2009, and February 11, 2009, are partners in the law firm that gets more outside business from the Chicago Board of Education than any other. Chicago Board of Education records show that the law firm, Franczek, Radelet & Rose, was approved for $800,000 in business by the Chicago Board of Education without discussion or debate between January and October 2008. 'Independent' hearing officer Michael Hernandez during the recent hearings on the reconstitution of six Chicago public schools. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Nevertheless, Michael Hernandez and Respicio Vazquez announced at the beginning of each of the hearings they recently conducted that they are "independent" hearing officers contracted by the CEO of the Chicago Public Schools. The public at all of the hearings was left with the impression that the two were truly independent of CPS.

Both are partners in the law firm of Franczek, Radelet & Rose (300 S. Wacker Drive, Chicago). Prior to this year, the firm was doing business under the name of Franczek Sullivan PC. As Franczek Sullivan, the firm has done extensive business with the Chicago Board of Education for at least ten years. The firm negotiated the last two major union contracts for CPS. Hernandez and Vazquez were partners in Franczek Sullivan and are now partners in Franczek, Radelet & Rose.

Between January 23, 2008, and October 22, 2008, the law firm of Franczek Sullivan PC (now operating under its new name) received at least $800,000 worth of business from the Chicago Board of Education. This made the firm by far the top recipient of legal business from CPS for outside law firms.

Hearing officer Respicio Vazquez during the recent hearings on school closings, consolidations, phase outs, and reconstitutions (turnarounds). Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.The Chicago Board of Education also maintains its own ‘Law Department’ which has more than 40 lawyers and 40 others on staff on the Seventh Floor of the Board’s Clark St. headquarters building, although no member of the current Board of Education has ever asked why CPS pours millions of dollars into outside lawyers while also maintaining one of the largest law departments of any government in Illinois.

On January 23, 2008, the Chicago Board of Education approved a Board Report (08-0123-AR2) agreeing to pay Franczek Sullivan $200,000 for legal work.

On April 23, 2008, the Chicago Board of Education approved a Board Report (08-0423-AR3) agreeing to pay Franczek Sullivan an additional $350,000 for legal work.

And on October 22, 2008, the Chicago Board of Education approved a Board Report (08-1022-AR2) agreeing to pay Franczek Sullivan an additioinal $250,000 for legal work. See a collage of the official Board Reports with this article.

Above: Copies of the 'Board Reports' from January, April and October 2008 showing that the Chicago Board of Education approved a total of $800,000 for legal work to be done by the law firm of which Respicio Vazquez and Michael Hernandez are partners. Prior to the reorganization of the firm as Franczek Radelet & Rose, the firm was "Franczek Sullivan PC" (see above). Partners in law firms receive their annual pay based on the billings of the firm, so the money paid to their firm by CPS raises the amount that each of them earned during 2008. Nevertheless, in January 2009 the "CEO" of the Chicago Public Schools hired Vazquez and Hernandez to serve as 'independent' hearing officers during the recent round of hearings, and both attorneys introduced themselves at each of the hearings as 'independent.' Substance document collage and photograph by George N. Schmidt.Both Michael Hernandez and Respicio Vazquez served as hearing officers during the school closing, consolidation, phase out, and turnaround hearings in 2008 and 2009. Both are partners in the Franczek law firm. Both told Substance there is no conflict of interest in their firm’s lucrative work for the Chicago Board of Education and their claim that they are ‘independent’ hearing officers during the annual hearings on school closings, consilidations, phase outs, and turnaround.

Michael Hernandez conducted the hearings on the "turnaround" (actually reconstitution) of Bethune, Dulles, Holmes and Johnson elementary schools, four of the five elementary schools slated for reconstitution this school year. Vazquez conducted the hearing on the reconstitution of Fenger High School. Both also conducted other hearings during the current cycle as well. 



Comments:

March 10, 2009 at 3:51 PM

By: Jeanine Molloff

Correspondent for Huffington post

A similar situation exists in St. Louis City, where the State Board of Education for Missouri unseated a publicly elected school board, thereby disenfranchising an entire city of voters. The appointed board includes a housing developer for McBride & Sons. So much for transparency and accountability.

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