HINSDALE, IL – The Hinsdale High School District 86 board is being asked to approve $135,600 in legal bills from the last couple of months.

Once upon a time, board members Jeff Waters and Peggy James objected to high legal bills. That was when they often voted in the minority. That was when a different superintendent – one they disliked – was in charge.

That was all of two years ago.

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This year, despite escalating bills, Waters and James remain silent, as do their colleagues.

A couple of weeks ago, Patch texted Waters about the rising costs. He replied, “No comment.”

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On Tuesday, Patch emailed both Waters and James about the issue. Neither responded.

The bills from the district’s law firm, Chicago-based Robbins Schwartz, totaled $81,493 in April and $54,106 in May, according to district records.

In March, the firm’s bill was $76,617. The board approved it without comment.

In 2022, James and Waters repeatedly joined then-member Debbie Levinthal to vote against approving legal bills. That was before the new board majority ousted Superintendent Tammy Prentiss in June 2023.

The legal bills, which were from a different firm, reached $74,302 in July 2022. At the time, Waters said such bills were excessive.

“They are increasing by many magnitudes year over year, quarter over quarter, etc.,” Waters said. “We need to understand why exactly that is happening. We also need to know as a district some of the fiscal constraints and demands that will be placed on us in the upcoming year that we’re already seeing playing out with certain projects.”

He said he wanted to champion fiscal prudence and find a way to lessen the legal bills.

On Thursday, the public is expected to get a chance to see how Waters and James vote on the higher legal bills.

Overall, the district reports that legal spending has risen 43 percent this budget year, for a total of $588,398.

Even before the new board majority formed last year, several of its members met secretly with a representative of Robbins Schwartz before new members joined the board.

Itasca-based Hodges Loizzi had the district’s legal business for years. But the new majority likely saw the firm as too close to Prentiss.

Shortly after taking office, the board kept Hodges Loizzi, but hired Robbins Schwartz for a couple of specific tasks – handling Prentiss’ ouster and later, investigating a “message with parent concerns.” (The firm also took care of issues beyond the scope of those tasks, such as letters of warning to two board members who resigned in frustration.)

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For months, school board members spoke about launching a competitive process to get a new law firm. Under state law, the board has no obligation to go through a process for professional services such as attorneys.

In January, an interim superintendent spoke twice to the board about the process of requesting proposals from law firms. But shortly after he spoke the second time, the board quickly named Robbins Schwartz as its firm.

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