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NHC school board seeks additional legal counsel, board attorney Vogel responds to Sink lawsuit

NHCBOE on February 7, 2024.
Camille Mojica
NHCBOE on February 7, 2024.

At Tuesday’s New Hanover County School Board meeting, members voted 6-1 to consider new options for general counsel. The board also voted 4-3 to look for additional legal support for the current school year.

Board Member Josie Barnhart said she wanted to explore new counsel for exceptional children (EC). That’s at least in part because attorneys Jonathan and Leghia Sink, who were handling some of that work as part of the Vogel Law Firm, resigned last month.

The motion that passed included looking into options with the Sink Law Firm, PLLC, or Poyner Spruill LLP.

The Sinks and Vogel are currently suing each other in court, accusing each other of breach of contract. Vogel also been accused of misrepresenting his qualifications.

Vogel defended himself to the board.

“Be careful not to be fooled by misinformation that you may be getting from people who have an ulterior motive. People who may be disgruntled people who may have been disloyal to this board or to our law firm, and people who may have a hidden, perhaps political agenda,” he said.

Vogel’s countersuit

Vogel’s countersuit, filed on January 23, responds to claims by the Sinks that he is in breach of contract with them and owes them fees.

He claimed that the Sinks were not partners in the firm but were independent contractors who had “multiple, unauthorized communications” with the board and “used confidential information” without Vogel’s consent, thus breaching their contract with him. (*You can find the countersuit at the end of this article.)

He also accused them of “fraud” because the Sinks knew their Sink Law Firm PLLC “did not exist, that does not exist today, and that never existed at all.”

While this accusation will be worked out in the courts, Sink Law PLLC is an active business with the North Carolina Secretary of State.

In response to the fees owed to the Sinks, Vogel responded that he paid for the Sinks’ work ($6,016) in October. He didn’t pay an additional $7,779.25 because they were “in breach of their contract” for that work. He added that they deposited the check, meaning they agreed with the amount given to them.

Also in the countersuit, Vogel chastised the Sinks for bringing legal action before mediation — and saying they “disparaged” his firm.

Vogel requested that “actual damages” will be determined at trial.

Note: Neither Sink or Vogel agreed to comment publicly on their suit.

The board is moving forward with the legal hiring committee for next year

The board agreed to create a legal hiring committee — and have Board Members Hugh McManus, Melissa Mason, and Barnhart hear requests for proposals (RFP) for next year’s legal representation. Board member Pat Bradford was the sole dissenting vote.

McManus said he wanted to receive input from Central Office on the selection, “about what's good, what's been done? What needs to be improved? So that we don't have our own personal biases and we'll have the data.”

Superintendent Dr. Charles Foust will advise the committee on this representation, but the final decision will still have to go through a full board vote.

The timeline for the committee is that they will begin to deliberate on the RFPs in April when they’ll hear from the top three firms. They’ll then select the firm in May for an end-of-June start date.

Hiring another firm to do exceptional children legal work

Bradford was not happy that Vogel’s credentials were being questioned — or that the board voted to hire another law firm for EC counsel.

“I believe this is a personal vendetta. I believe it's just way off the grid; it’s unhinged, and I want no part of it. I apologize as a person to be abusing a vendor. [...] That they [Vogel] might annoy one board member to the point that they would go on a personal vendetta against them to destroy them,” Bradford said. Kraybill called ‘point of order’ after this comment.

Before the vote to extend the opportunity to either the Sinks or Poyner Spruill to help with the EC caseload, Vogel interrupted to say that it was “out of left field” and that this was “a very strange point to make.”

During Vogel’s defense, he doubled down on the Sinks not doing “much work generally and didn’t do much work in EC [exceptional children].”

Records show that the Sinks did 23% of Vogel’s work in general over four months.

Vogel said the idea that “our law firm or me, in particular, has trouble handling the work or the workload from the EC department or EC cases is simply not based on fact.”

He then went on to lecture the board about their priorities.

“There are 115 school districts, school boards across the state. They're all meeting this week and next week, and they're talking about really important issues of academic achievement, fiscal responsibility, and student safety. And they're not talking about their law firm month after month after month. They're talking about transparency and accountability. They're talking about the Parents Bill of Rights implementation. They're talking about Fairness for Women in Sports,” Vogel said.

Kraybill responded by saying, “This meeting is not for him [Vogel] to defend himself and talk about what other boards are doing and what people across the state are doing and to interject to us what we should be prioritizing.”

After the vote to explore other legal options, the board went into closed session to discuss pending lawsuits (John Does 15-17 v. New Hanover Cty. Bd. of Educ., New Hanover Cty. Bd. of Educ. v. Liberty Insurance Corp., and B.H. v. New Hanover Cty. Bd. of Educ.) against the district — and to hear information on protected personnel information.

Notably, Bradford did not bring forward a motion to effectively fire Superintendent Dr. Charles Foust as she had threatened to do during a previous meeting.

Prior reporting on the Vogel Law Firm, LLC

Rachel is a graduate of UNCW's Master of Public Administration program, specializing in Urban and Regional Policy and Planning. She also received a Master of Education and two Bachelor of Arts degrees in Political Science and French Language & Literature from NC State University. She served as WHQR's News Fellow from 2017-2019. Contact her by email: rkeith@whqr.org or on Twitter @RachelKWHQR