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School Board considers replacing costly general counsel


The School Board is looking for a new attorney – or a better deal from its current general counsel, Suzanne D’Agresta.

After being informed that the district has doled out more than $3 million to D’Agresta since she was hired fulltime in 2007, the School Board directed Interim Superintendent Susan Moxley to work with other administrators to figure out the best way of getting qualified competitive bids for the job.

In just the past four years, D’Agresta and the Orlando firm Brown, Garganese, Weiss & D’Agresta have been paid more than $1.6 million. D’Agresta collects a $264,000 annual retainer along with additional money for disbursements, travel and other expenses.

During the same four-year period, the school district paid out another $1.22 million to other law firms and legal subcontractors hired by D’Agresta or the board to help D’Agresta handle the district’s legal work.

 “I think to be fair we need to look at other options,” board member Teri Barenborg said. “We don’t want to lose quality, but we owe it to taxpayers to get the best deal.

“We are paying way too much money right now.”

Moxley will present several bidding options in August for the board to consider and vote on, School Board Chairman Laura Zorc said. It is possible Brown, Garganese, Weiss & D’Agresta will be among the bidders.

Former Superintendent Mark Rendell, who resigned under pressure May 24, was known to use D’Agresta constantly, even having her attend weekly Monday morning staff meetings, Zorc said. Frequent trips to and from Orlando inflated the amount paid for travel expenses.

Moxley has cut back the district’s use of D’Agresta, who no longer is invited to staff meetings and other functions.

Board member Jacqueline Rosario expressed concern that Garganese, Weiss & D’Agresta has not had to compete for the general counsel job since it was hired in 2007.

During the July 23 meeting, D’Agresta told the board that her law firm was hired in 2006 and paid an hourly fee of $170, on an as-needed basis. D’Agresta acknowledged that her firm was contacted directly by a former administrator and offered the job without competition.

In 2007, when the board decided it wanted to hire a law firm on a full-time basis, D’Agresta’s was one of four companies that competed for the job. 

After interviewing the law firms, including two from Indian River County, the board at that time voted 5-0 to hire D’Agresta’s firm, according to records of that meeting held March 20, 2007.

Since that time, Brown, Garganese, Weiss & D’Agresta has held onto the job, year after year, without having to bid for it or compete with other law firms.

In 2018, when the board rehired D’Agresta without getting any other bids, Zorc, who had just been elected to the board, said she was concerned about how much the district was paying for legal work and that the board had not sought bids for the job since 2007.

“I still have the same concerns,” Zorc said last week.