A law firm linked to longtime Clinton moneyman Terry McAuliffe has been paid millions by a school system for work that frequently consists of fighting parents and includes an effort to dismiss a lawsuit alleging that special education children were systematically abused by educators, according to detailed billing records obtained by The Daily Wire.
McAuliffe is the Democratic nominee in the Virginia governor’s race, in which voting is currently underway and polls show that he is tied with his opponent. Teachers unions are among the top donors to his campaign, with the National Education Association sending $525,000 and the American Federation of Teachers chipping in $425,000. The law firm’s work for the Fairfax County Public Schools included weighing in on “collective bargaining” and writing a report determining whether school officials had done anything wrong when, as it closed schools for nearly a year under union pressure, its online learning system also went down after the school system failed to run upgrades.
The records were released to a special-ed parent under public records laws. But when the law firm, Hunton Andrews Kurth, realized their contents, one of its lawyers began frantically demanding the records back, coming to her house multiple times a day, waiting outside her home, and threatening legal action.
More than 1,400 pages of billing records show Hunton advocating for the interest of the school system as the school system was found responsible for violating environmental regulations; apparently negotiating with foreign hackers after student data was stolen in a ransomware attack; handling Freedom of Information Act requests from parents, which FCPS frequently aggressively blocks; and sparring with Asian parents who said the district was committing racial discrimination by abolishing the entrance exam for a math magnet school after Democrats complained too many Asians were getting in.
Charging up to $750 an hour, the firm billed FCPS nearly $8 million since June 2019, making it one of the school system’s largest vendors.
In a class-action lawsuit, the parents of special education students said the children had been improperly subject to “restraint and seclusion.”
One plaintiff, an eight-year-old with PTSD, was allegedly bullied so much that he began running away from the classroom. School staff began placing him into a cardboard box, which they called a “safe space,” according to the lawsuit. An autistic boy was allegedly locked in a “seclusion room” while he screamed, “somebody help me!” The school system allegedly called this putting him in “support.”
When the parent of another plaintiff visited her child at school, she allegedly witnessed him being held in a chokehold while he pleaded “let go.” He later suffered a concussion after being “struck in the head by a handheld radio” when he did not want to sit next to an aide on the bus, the lawsuit said.
A fourth plaintiff was a non-verbal thirteen-year-old with autism. He was allegedly secluded 745 times, often in a six-by-six foot padded room with a locked door, including for nearly two straight months, and often without parental notification. A nonverbal, autistic six-year-old was allegedly kept, on a near-daily basis, in a tiny box constructed with blue gym mats.
The Hunton law firm attempted to have the lawsuit dismissed, and billed hundreds of thousands of dollars fighting the parents on behalf of the Fairfax County School board. Billing records show that a plaintiff contended that Hunton had a conflict in the case.
The parent who received the records under public records laws, Debra Tisler, is a former FCPS teacher and mother of a special-needs child who says the school system has taken an adversarial and secretive position towards providing her child with an appropriate education. After concluding that Hunton did much of FCPS’s dirty work, she submitted a public records request for billing records. The school system charged her $300, which she paid, and it sent her the documents electronically.
“I know what they have done to myself and other special education families. I have a friend who they won’t even let her review her child’s files. She can’t get a [special needs accommodations] meeting. They’re ruthless, and here they are charging $695 an hour,” she told The Daily Wire.
Then a man, whom she identified as Hunton attorney Ryan M. Bates, began coming to her house multiple times a day in a Lexus SUV and lurking outside for long periods of time.
One letter signed by Bates said “You have not responded to my letter, FCPS’s September 17, 2021 letter, or the four voicemail messages that I have left for you… Do not share or disseminate the inadvertently produced records.”
Instead, she provided them to The Daily Wire.
“These are invoices, they’re public information. It’s just showing what we’re paying for,” she said. “It’s sickening what they are doing. They came to my house like that and the same day continued to withhold my son’s records,” she said.
Correspondence reviewed by The Daily Wire does not identify any specific laws that Tisler would purportedly be violating for receiving information under public records laws.
It would not be the first alleged attempt to silence or retaliate against potential whistleblowers.
In November 2019, the school system’s independent auditor, Goli Trump, alleged that she was fired for investigating misconduct that could have implicated the superintendent in wrongdoing. School system honchos learned of the auditor’s investigation after FCPS general counsel John Foster allegedly betrayed Trump’s confidence, and she was told to drop the investigation unless the superintendent okayed it. Trump was so concerned by the apparent interference that she called the police. School system staff allegedly went into her office and removed documents.
The superintendent, Karen Garza, abruptly disappeared from her job soon after, suggesting that Goli Trump was not off-base. But the auditor is still out of a job, and Hunton has billed big bucks fighting her in court ever since. In addition to fighting her retaliation lawsuit, billing records show Hunton working on a project with a secret codename called “Project Spark” which appears to involve the fired auditor.
In October 2019, the law firm said that McAuliffe “join[ed] Hunton as Global Strategy Advisor for Cybersecurity.” The firm said in a press release that “McAuliffe will help shape strategic privacy and data security policy initiatives aimed at better positioning companies to address and mitigate fast-changing cyber and privacy risks… His business acumen, coupled with his public service experience, will be very valuable for Hunton.” In campaign ethics disclosures, McAuliffe reported receiving more than $250,00 for “cybersecurity/law” services this year, the maximum dollar range on the ethics forms.
In September 2020, foreign hackers announced that they had captured FCPS data, including some children’s disciplinary records. FCPS had Hunton handle the issue. Billing records show that Hunton, in turn, contacted Crowdstrike, the politically connected firm that often does work for Democrats.
When The Daily Wire previously placed an inquiry to FCPS about the hack, a public relations man for a for-profit New York firm, who said he had been hired by the school system to manage public perception around the hack, adamantly insisted that FCPS had not paid the hackers. But Hunton billing records show the firm discussing “hacker negotiations” and eventually “timing of termination of ransom negotiations.”
The billing records show that Hunton plays an outsized role in the administration of the Fairfax County Public Schools, helping draft school board motions, plan what the superintendent will tell board members, and editing press releases.
When Fairfax offered neither virtual nor in-person learning for weeks because of technical problems, Fairfax said it would commission an “independent” report to address public outcry and bring accountability. The report was written by Hunton. The district then refused to release the report, claiming it was subject to “attorney/client privilege.”
When a school board member was facing a recall election from parents who were angry that she kept schools closed, seemingly at teachers unions’ behest, she spoke to Hunton. Though citizens collected the required signatures, two prosecutors with ties to McAuliffe declined to pursue the recall on behalf of the citizens, leaving the effort dead.
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