Category Archive: Claims against Government

  1. Sordyl and Slovic case:  How public records requests shed light on problems at PPS. Change next?

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    Kim Sordyl did not want to spend her time and energy fighting Portland Public Schools.  However, years ago, she noticed significant issues with PPS.  She followed all proper channels, which lead to dead ends and revealed a culture that protected the paid grown ups over children.

    She did not quit.  Year after year, she battled abuse, hypocrisy, and ultimately, bad outcomes for children.  She worked to elect different board members and a Secretary of State who might bring fresh eyes to the problems.  Sordyl continued to obtain public records to highlight problems.  She shifted from the quiet and ineffective lawyerly approach to more strident language to call out the outrages, leading to The Portland Tribune headline:  Kim Sordyl, Mean Girl or Champion.

    At some point, PPS decided challenge Kim Sordyl when she and reporter Beth Slovic both sought PPS’s information on who it had stashed on paid administrative leave – wasting money to pay people to do nothing instead of addressing whatever problems put the teachers or staff on administrative leave.

    Portland Public Schools refused to disclose this information, which PPS had disclosed in the past.  It was not a controversial request, I believed.  Sordyl and Slovic appealed to the District Attorney.  The District Attorney ordered disclosure.  But PPS decided, instead, to sue the mom and the reporter.

    Publicly, PPS claimed it needed to sue to obtain “clarity” on what the law required.  Well, that is what PPS should be paying its own lawyers for – to give legal advice.   The District Attorney issues his opinion:  the records were public and must be produced.  PPS did not like that answer, apparently, so it sued, which put the mom and the reporter to a choice:  give up or hire a lawyer.  They found lawyers willing to help under contingent fee agreements, including me.  We answered PPS’s court challenge.  We won the release of records and an award of attorney fees.

    Portland Public Schools has a lot of needs: better facilities for students, better teachers, more school days . . . .  It should not have wasted $280,000 to fight the release of number of employees on paid administrative leave.  Here’s The Oregonian article adding up the costs.

    Some believed PPS sued Sordyl reasons other than “clarity” on a point of law – including to intimidate a vocal advocate for children who battled school district leaders and employees for years.   PPS denied that.

    Suing an unpaid children’s advocate raised concerns with Oregon’s Secretary of State, who then audited Portland Public Schools.

    The “blistering”audit proved everything Kim Sordyl had been saying for years, Portland Public Schools has failed students.  According the Secretary of State:

    • High funding but low results.
    • Less money going to instruction than peer districts.  Kim Sordyl has argued PPS wastes money, and the Secretary of State confirmed examples, including $13,000 on a retirement party
    • PPS avoids accountability, and Oregon’s Dept. of Education does little to hold PPS accountable.

    So, it is perhaps a sweet and ironic justice that PPS’s lawsuit against a mom and a reporter to obtain “clarity” resulted in getting much more clarity than it ever anticipated – from the Secretary of State audit – on topics beyond whether it must disclose who it is paying to do nothing.

    But here’s the problem.

    Will the audit collect dust or will PPS improve?   PPS says, “that was the old regime.”  And yes, some people fled in embarrassment.  But the institutional pressures remain to continue the same ol’, same ol’.   Who will be the next “mean girl or champion?”  Who will be the next mom and beat reporter to uncover problems and push for better futures for our children?  Voting more money is not enough, we need more Sordyls and Slovics and lawyers willing to help them.  Otherwise, entrenched powers paid with taxpayer money will outlast volunteers with no public pensions, who must move on to other aspects of their lives.

    Jeff Merrick, Oregon Litigation Attorney
    ©2018 by Merrick Law, LLC. and Jeff Merrick. The above is not intended as legal advice. It is for general information purposes only. Reading it or attempting to contact me does not mean I am your attorney. I only represent people after we sign a written contract.
  2. Replicating Failed Policy of Mass Shelters Perpetuates Human Suffering and Kills Neighborhoods.

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    1. Homelessness: Oregon is the Model of Failure.
    2. What is our current policy making process.
    3. What do successful jurisdictions do differently?
    4. What does the past teach us about what works and what does not work?

    A. Concentrating service-dependent people creates ghettos that are unhealthful for the people served and for the neighborhood.
    B. Mass shelters provide fertile ground for the spread of contagious disease.
    C. Work programs work.
    D. Open LEADERSHIP founded upon data and performance is critical to success
    E. Housing First, NOT Mass Shelters

    5. What can mere citizens do?

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  3. “Leaders” continue to dodge good ideas from concerned citizens.

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    On July 31, I was pleased to participate in the meeting of citizens concerned about the proposed low-barrier homeless shelter across the street from a schoolhouse on SE Foster.  Although South East Allied Communities invited public officials, no public official attended or sent a representative.

    Officials continue their approach of not wanting public input that might offer insights not raised behind closed doors by the usual suspects or at steering committee meetings of people hand-picked by officials.  Continued inbreeding only spawns more of the same policy that has caused Oregon to rank 49 of 51 (states plus District of Columbia) in sheltering homeless.

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  4. Sometimes, you have to agree with your adversary.

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    In Portland Public Schools v. Beth Slovic and Kim Sordyl, we won and submitted a petition for attorney fees.  In response, the opposing lawyer wrote to the judge:

    “Mr. Merrick stepped in due to the untimely death of Rick Van Cleave and picked up and filed the final briefing and argued the cross-motions for summary judgment in an efficient and effective manner.”

    Certainly, I cannot argue with that.  Thank you!

  5. A Win for My Client and Government Accountability

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    Reporter Beth Slovic and Kimberly Sordyl, a strong advocate for schoolchildren won their public records lawsuit.  Each asked Portland Public Schools for public records on employees who are on paid leave.  They believed management was parking people on paid leave instead of resolving whatever allegations or problems put them on leave.  I represented Kim Sordyl.

    The school district refused to provide the records. Continue Reading