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6 1/2-year Bouris-Coughlin case cost taxpayers $1.4 million

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The long-running Bouris-Coughlin lawsuit, settled in December for $250,000, was the endgame in a seven-year story that had a substantial final price tag -- a total of $2.4 million.

Of that amount, $1.4 million was borne by Arlington taxpayers, after deducting the $1 million covered by the schools' insurer, Tudor Insurance.

The case involved Stavroula Bouris and Charles E. Coughlin Jr., the Ottoson principal and teacher who fought their 2007 dismissals following a school investigation.

Manage memo cites numbers

A memo from Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine to the Finance Committee spells out the final price tag. The Fincom reviewed it March 19 and approved a request to transfer of $240,760 to cover remaining legal fees.

In December, Chapdelaine wrote, "The settlement amount and remaining legal fees will be paid through a combination of School Department operating funds previously allocated for legal costs, funds from the School Department's insurance policy, and if necessary funds from the town's operating reserve fund will be requested."

Since then, YourArlington has tried to learn how the settlement was paid. Chapdelaine's March 18 memo says:

    "I am writing to you today to request a reserve fund transfer to the town’s legal expense budget in the amount of $240,760 to cover costs associated with remaining legal fees relating to the Bouris - Coughlin lawsuit.

    "As discussed with the committee earlier this year, these fees are related to the legal representation of the defendants in the lawsuit. By combination of contract provisions, insurance provisions, and town bylaws, each individually named defendant in this matter was and is entitled to indemnification from the town and to have the cost of their civil defense paid by the town. As you may recall, the $7,000,000 lawsuit filed by the plaintiffs was settled in late 2013 for $250,000.

Financial exposure called 'significant'

    "At the time of the settlement, the town’s financial exposure had been analyzed as potentially very significant. The attorneys’ fees cost alone were running at approximately $24,000 per day. There were 10 days of trial remaining at a projected cost of $240,000.

    "This figure did not include expert witness fees or other costs projected to be approximately $10-$15,000; nor did it include the approximately $475,000 in unpaid legal fees that had already been incurred.

    "Up until the date of settlement, the Plaintiffs had at all-times been demanding $7,000,000 in the aggregate to resolve their two cases. There is no way to predict what amount the jury would have awarded (if any) upon rendering its damages verdict. Regardless of the outcome, the losing side would have most certainly appealed.

    "Based upon the length of the trial and the amount of legal issues presented in this case, it is fair to assume that the appellate attorneys’ fees alone would run approximately $100,000 for all three defendants. There would also be transcript and related appellate costs averaging approximately $5,000. Based upon the outcome and the Appeals Court decision, any further appellate review would have similar costs and expenses.

    "At the time of settlement, it was determined that the School Department’s portion of the $250,000 agreement would be $52,117.20, the remainder being covered by the School Department’s insurance policy.

    "Also, after working with the defendants' attorneys, we learned that the amount of legal fees due in excess of the School Department's insurance policy was $477,435.67. After negotiating with the defendants' attorneys, the Legal Department was successful at reducing that amount by 18% to $390,760.

    "The School Department’s legal budget is able to cover $150,000 of these costs, and the balance of $240,760 is what is being requested as a reserve fund transfer.

    "When this matter was discussed with the Finance Committee earlier this year, several members of the committee requested information regarding total expenditures to date related to the Bouris - Coughlin matter. The table below contains all prior costs and the costs related to the remaining legal fees discussed in the memorandum."

School Department Costs Related to Bouris-Coughlin Suit

FY 08: $192,674.24

FY 09: $152,289.49

FY 10: $221,785.82

FY 11: $225,691.75

FY 12: $114,382

FY 13: $50,863

FY 14: $41,142

Total: $998,828.30

Remaining Legal Fees

FY 14 School Legal Appropriation: $150,000

FY 14 Reserve Fund Request: $240,760

FY 14 Total: $390,760.00

School Department Portion of Settlement

FY 14: $52,117.20

Total All Town/School Costs – Bouris - Coughlin Suit

$1,441,705.50

In December, Senior Judge Mark L. Wolf said in U.S. District Court in Boston, according to a transcript:

"Over the years I've encouraged you to attempt to settle this case, in part because of the nature of the allegations and events. When cases are settled usually nobody is completely happy with the terms. It's in the nature of a settlement.

"But I think every one of the parties have good reason not to want to testify or testify further. You've been embroiled in this dispute for more than six years and I hope that this resolution will let each of you get on with your personal and professional lives and that in your future professional lives whatever you learned from this will give some redeeming value to an experience that I'm confident has been painful to every single one of you."

The federal trial, filed in 2010, began Dec. 2, after a number of delays, and settlement occurred Dec. 10.

One impetus for the lawsuit dates to July 2007, when YourArlington published a report that Bouris and Coughlin were under investigation for "potential inappropriate conduct" involving a series of emails written on the schools' computer system. Other media reports followed. Bouris and Coughlin were fired the next month, and a systems technician was cleared.

The plaintiffs and their attorney were scheduled to be paid $250,000 on or before March 31.


This story was published Wednesday, March 26, 2014, and updated the next day.

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