Knox County taxpayers not left out for SF law firm bill

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By Jamie Satterfield, Tennessee Lookout

April 11, 2022

Knox County taxpayers risked paying the legal fees of a San Francisco law firm their elected leaders did not hire or approve to fight a judicial mask warrant their own government is already fighting at their expense. – until the Tennessee Lookout questions their mayor about it.

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The Tennessee Lookout on Thursday morning asked Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs to comment on the Dhillon Law Group’s claim in U.S. District Court for Knox County Taxpayers’ legal fees in a lawsuit filed in name of an “unincorporated non-profit association” regarding a judicial mask mandate for school children.

Jacobs, via spokesperson Mike Donila, asked for time to respond. Shortly thereafter, the Dhillon Group filed a motion to withdraw its claim for legal fees. Jacobs’ office then sent a written response to the Tennessee Lookout, with the newly filed motion attached.

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“Taxpayers are not responsible for legal fees of any kind other than those paid to the elected legal director and his staff,” Donila wrote on behalf of the mayor.

Jacobs and State Rep. Jason Zachary, R-Knoxville, posted a video to Twitter in March in which the couple touted the company’s work in COVID litigation and urged citizens to donate money to pay for the company to fight against the masking of students.

The company filed a notice with the U.S. District Court of its request for taxpayer legal fees two days after the video was posted.

Knox County Deputy General Counsel David Sanders had sounded the alarm over the firm’s attempt to recover legal fees from taxpayers more than a week ago, court records show, with no response from the Dhillon. Law Group or the mayor’s office.

Sanders noted in a motion filed April 1 that he was already being paid by taxpayers to fight a judicial mask warrant for Knox County students. He said in the motion that the law firm should not be allowed to collect money from Knox County taxpayers and called the firm’s demands an “unsuccessful and devious remedy.”

“(Knox County) vigorously objected to the court order mandating masks,” Sanders wrote in an April 1 petition. “(The lawsuit) asks this court to enjoin (the Knox County School Board) from complying with the court’s own injunction.”

The judicial mask mandate, meanwhile, was lifted on March 14.

Donila said in a follow-up response Thursday night that Jacobs contacted Dhillon Law Group after receiving Tennessee Lookout’s request for comment and was unaware that the firm was seeking to bill Knox County for its legal fees.

Masks, courts and politics

The Knox County School Board rejected a mask mandate for students last September. Parents of three Knox County students followed up that vote with a proposed class action lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court.

The lawsuit argued that the lives of students with pre-existing health conditions were threatened by COVID unless U.S. District Judge Ronnie Greer intervened with a temporary judicial mask warrant order. Sanders quickly filed a motion on behalf of Knox County against a warrant.

“(The Knox County School Board) argues that (a) decision about whether to impose a mask mandate is a political decision that the court should not interfere with,” Sanders wrote. “Ultimately, the elected members of the (school board) will have to answer to the voters.”

Greer sided with parents seeking student masks in late September and issued a mask mandate for students attending Knox County schools. He amended his order a month later to allow school officials to consider and, in some cases, grant medical exemptions from the mandate.
Sanders appealed Greer’s decision on behalf of Knox County in late October, but the warrant remained in effect pending the outcome of that appeal. The school board was required to apply it and it did.

Four months later, Jacobs and Zachary posted a video on Twitter in which the two appealed for donations to an organization they identified as Unmask Knox County Kids to help pay the Dhillon Law Group to challenge the warrant. judicial mask.

Mayor Glenn Jacobs and State Rep. Jason Zachary in March posted a video to Twitter in which the couple touted the company’s work in COVID litigation and urged citizens to donate money to pay for the company to fight against the masking of students. Two days later, the Dhillon Group filed a notice seeking costs from Knox County ratepayers

“It’s amazing the work this company has done over the past two weeks in preparation for this Knox County children’s defense lawsuit,” Zachary said in the March 1 video. “But we can’t do this with just our donations. We need you to join us. This is going to be a community effort.”

raise money

The Unmask Knox County Kids organization is not registered with the IRS or any government agency. The firm Dhillon Law Group said in a lawsuit that the group is an “unincorporated non-profit association” made up of 1,063 “concerned” Knox County parents, teachers and taxpayers.

The group has a website that lists Knox County parents Angie Goethert and Andrew Schoenecker as president and treasurer, respectively, and “constitutional rights activist” Laura Branson as secretary. The group did not respond to requests for comment.

Its website says the group wants to raise $250,000 to pay for the firm’s legal fees and had raised $40,231 as of March 10.

The only requirement to become a member of Unmask Knox County Kids, the group’s website says, is filing an online form, evidencing an interest as a parent, school employee, or Knox County taxpayer. . There is no verification process, according to the website.

The website has an “update and news” section. All articles in this section are press releases by and about the Dhillon Law Group and its work for the group.

Jacobs and Zachary donated $5,000 each to pay the company, according to their Twitter video. Zachary did not respond to requests for comment on whether he knew the Dhillon Law Group would seek to hold Knox County taxpayers accountable for the firm’s legal bills when he donated to the group.

Greer lifted his mask warrant on March 14 at the request of Sanders and parents seeking masks in the original lawsuit, according to court records. Both parties are working with a federal mediator and must report to Greer within 60 days. Meanwhile, the US Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit held a hearing in May to determine whether Greer was wrong to issue a mask warrant in the first place.

Tennessee Lookout is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit network of state government news sites supported by grants and a coalition of donors.

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