Of course, the PCB lawsuit is a conflict

Can an attorney provide unbiased advice to school boards in matters involving PCBs, of which there will be many, when he is orchestrating a lawsuit that can yield a seven- or eight-figure contingency?

WESTMINSTER — Early in April, Attorney Pietro Lynn of the Burlington Law firm Lynn, Lynn, Blackman & Manitsky made an overture to superintendents of schools all across Vermont to join him an a suit against the chemical giant Monsanto over the widespread PCB contamination that is emerging as a significant health threat in a large number of the public schools in Vermont.

And furthermore, he had the firepower to do it, too, having teamed up with a couple of giants of the national tort bar, the OnderLaw firm of St. Louis and Frazer Law out of Nashville, Tennessee.

It was certainly a noble gesture toward those schools - 93 of them, in fact, which are signed on now, whether they know it or not - as well as a gargantuan potential payday for Lynn.

The attorney stands to see a personal windfall, which - based on his his estimate of damages to Vermont schools running into the billions of dollars - could easily run into a seven- or eight-figure remuneration, based on his 35% take of the potential settlement after "expenses" are deducted.

Of course, the Vermont attorney general has also filed suit against Monsanto, but as Lynn has pointed out, there's no guarantee that any portion of that potential settlement would flow back to the schools.

But then again, there's no guarantee it won't.

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Recently, the Bellows Falls Union High School board held a discussion about two small kerfuffles that this suit raises.

First, there's the small matter of the superintendent of schools' operational authority to sign the boards onto this suit without their knowledge.

The other small matter concerns whether the enormous size of any fees potentially accruing to Lynn from this settlement would present a conflict of interest in any form with regard to his ability to provide unbiased advice to the boards in matters involving PCBs, of which there will be many.

After I made the argument to the boards that the superintendent lacks that operational authority and that attorney Lynn is, in fact, conflicted, he was invited down (via Zoom) to address these issues to the Windham Northeast Supervisory Union board at its meeting on Aug. 16.

As you might suppose, he expressed the opinion that the superintendent possessed that operational authority, and also that he was not conflicted.

* * *

I will be the first to admit that Pietro Lynn was quite eloquent in expressing that guidance - helped, no doubt, by the fact that the questions I raised on those topics and as a courtesy shared with the Supervisory Union board chair ahead of the meeting were immediately communicated by the chair to Lynn for him to prepare to preemptively address these topics.

Notice should also be taken that the chair has herself unequivocally concurred in that interpretation of the law and ethical standards since early July, when I first outed the apparent subterfuge around our board's involvement in a lawsuit we knew nothing about.

It's sort of an irony that her school, Westminster Center, which has tested completely free of PCB contamination, is also listed as a plaintiff on the suit brought by Lynn, Lynn, Blackman & Manitsky.

So there you have it: the biggest health crisis to hit the schools since the Covid pandemic, and a superintendent of schools and an attorney who seem to have forgotten under whose authority - which, of course, is the board's - they operate.

David M. Clark is a member of the Bellows Falls Union High School board and former member and chair of the Windham Northeast Supervisory Union board.

This Voices Viewpoint was submitted to The Commons.

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