February 10, 2016

State representative files complaint against USD 231 school attorney

Bill Sutton

Bill Sutton

Danedri Thompson
Rep. Bill Sutton, R-Gardner, is requesting that the Kansas Disciplinary Administrator investigate USD 231 board of education attorney W. Joseph Hatley.
The Kansas Disciplinary Administrator’s Office is a state agency in the judicial branch working under the direction of the Kansas Supreme Court. The administrator reviews complaints of misconduct against lawyers, conducts investigations, holds public hearings when appropriate, and recommends discipline to the Supreme Court in serious matters.
Sutton filed the request after attending a Feb. 27 school board meeting in which USD 231 Superintendent Bill Gilhaus and two other administrators were terminated.
“(Hatley) was verbally combative, condescending and bullying in nature toward a majority of the board members,” Sutton said in a press release. “By all appearances, Mr. Hatley was at the meeting representing the interests of then-superintendent Gilhaus, not the school district at-large.”
Hatley sent a letter to school officials expressing his intent to terminate the legal services contract between the school district and his law firm, Spencer Fane Britt & Browne, effective June 4. Per the contract, Hatley’s letter said he is terminating the contract without cause.
A lawyer from Spencer Fane Britt & Browne who will represent Hatley in the complaint Sutton filed with the state, told the Kansas City Star last week that Sutton’s comments were false and appeared to be “intended to damage Joe Hatley’s impeccable reputation.”
Sutton said he requested the investigation in part due to rumors that Hatley sought-out district employees to file charges against school board members in order to stop the special board meeting on Feb. 27.
“I am concerned that attorney Hatley repeatedly contradicted the legal directives of the Kansas Association of School Boards,” Sutton said. “I have requested an investigation on the appropriateness of attorney Hatley repeatedly assuring the former superintendent after the special meeting that he was not fired because the meeting was illegal.”
Sutton echoed concerns that Sen. Pat Apple voiced in a Kansas City Star article questioning the legality of Gilhaus’ contract, which allowed the superintendent to retire and then double-dip by collecting a USD 231 salary and KPERS public pension.
Sutton said it appears that Gilhaus’ double-dipping contract, drafted by Hatley, “is not in keeping with legislative intent, contrary to IRS rules, appears pre-arranged and clearly skirted standard hiring practices required of an open KPERS position,” Sutton said.
Sutton said he has faith in the disciplinary administrator’s investigative process.
“The students, parents and taxpayers of Gardner Edgerton School District deserve legal services without bias and hidden agendas,” he said. “Anything less than that is a gross, misappropriation of tax dollars.”

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