Joe Palazzolo is burning through attorneys the way Elizabeth Taylor went through husbands. In March, the former assistant principal at Arlington Heights High was awarded more than $2 million in his wrongful termination suit against the school district. Predictably, the district appealed the verdict.
Maybe Palazzolo wanted an attorney whose name was as difficult to pronounce as his own: Most recently he hired Kristine Skocpol-Saleh to represent him. He said he parted company with Austin attorney Susan Hayes and, before that, the Dallas duo of Victoria Neave and Mark Scott because his case wasn’t making any progress.
“Problems between the attorneys escalated and became the focus of attention,” he said.
One of the major bones of contention between attorneys was the $243,082 fee awarded to Neave and Scott, who took the case to trial. Art Brender, whose firm was the first to represent Palazzolo, told Fort Worth Weekly that Neave and Scott used his firm’s work to try the case and did no research of their own.
Attorneys for the school district have asked the court to sanction Neave for contacting school board members directly, without their attorney’s permission. In court documents, school district attorney Thomas Brandt claims that Neave twice wrote to the board threatening trustees with depositions, attempting to give them legal advice, and talking smack about him –– including encouraging them to question his legal advice.
Neave didn’t return a call from the Weekly asking for her response.
Skocpol-Saleh will represent Palazzolo in the appeal as well as in his defamation suit against former superintendent Walter Dansby and a new case against the school board.
Skocpol-Saleh believes the board should have voted in open meeting on appealing the March verdict. Last month, she filed suit against the school board for violating the Texas Open Meetings Act.
“There’s some precedents out there that actions like that require a public vote,” she said. She tried a similar case against the Farmers Branch school district that ended in a settlement.
Skocpol-Saleh said that if the courts find the board violated the law, the district’s appeal could be voided.
“They can still go take a public vote, but it’s too late. It would effectively shut them down,” she said.
In an e-mail, Brandt told the Weekly that he really missed seeing Palazzolo in court and hoped they could catch up over coffee. OK, not really — but on the other hand, Palazzolo’s suits do keep running up Brandt’s legal fees.
“This case is the fourth time he has sued us,” Brandt said. “It is without merit. We intend to fight it vigorously.”