Muscogee County School Board attorney departs

mrice@ledger-enquirer.comJanuary 15, 2014 

Jorge Vega, one of the Muscogee County School Board's attorneys, has left Columbus to return to San Antonio.

Vega is the lawyer who was in the board's controversial closed session Feb. 18, 2013. Eleven months later, Cathy Williams, the nine-member board's lone county-wide representative, requested Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens to investigate whether that session "was held without proper grounds, included discussions on matters outside the legitimate scope of the executive session, and included an in appropriate vote."

Williams' letter to the attorney general was dated Jan. 2 -- the same day Vega bid the board farewell.

"It is with great sadness that I write this e-mail to let you know that my wife and I, for personal and family reasons, will be moving back to San Antonio," Vega wrote.

Vega wasn't reached for comment, but George Mize, the managing partner of his Columbus law firm, Hatcher, Stubbs, Land, Hollis & Rothschild LLP, said the requested investigation and his departure aren't linked.

"He wanted to move back to his own hometown," Mize said Wednesday. "I don't think there's any sexy reason."

According to Dec. 5 report from TV station KENS, Vega was among the five finalists to become San Antonio's city attorney when the council promoted the mayor's chief of staff, Robbie Greenblum, to fill the position. Vega was the assistant attorney general for Texas from January 1994 to January 1999 before returning to private practice in San Antonio. He moved to Bellingham, Wash., in 2003 to be that city's planning director, then moved back to the South and joined Hatcher Stubbs in January 2006.

Vega the board members in his email, "I wanted to let each of you know that it has been an honor and privilege to have represented you and the District over the last eight years. As an attorney, we have the opportunity to serve many different clients but no opportunity is more rewarding, and yes, sometimes more challenging, to represent an entity whose sole purpose is to serve our children and their future.

There will always be those who are quick to criticize what this Board does but they do not have the advantage of seeing how hard you all work at taking care of the problems facing the District. I have had that advantage of seeing the dedication and effort of our Board members, which is why I can say without any hesitation that it has been an honor and privilege to work with you."

Board chairman Rob Varner of District 5 emailed the following response to Vega's departure:

"Jorge Vega is an excellent and skilled attorney; his presence in our community and his advice and counsel to the MSCD will be missed. As you know Greg Ellington has been has been our lead attorney at Hatcher Stubbs, and will continue in that role. One luxury of dealing with a large and diverse firm, such as Hatcher Stubbs, is the depth and breadth of experience they bring to our District. As much as we'll miss Mr. Vega, I'm confident that the firm will provide the District with attorneys who have the necessary skill and experience to provide excellent advice, as needed."

Hatcher Stubbs has represented the board for 63 straight years -- the entire history of the Muscogee County School District. The board has been criticized for continuing to retain Hatcher Stubbs each year without allowing other firms to bid on the legal services contract. That contract is up for renewal, and superintendent David Lewis said he will make a recommendation at Tuesday's 6 p.m. board meeting.

Lewis, who was hired in July, said, "In my limited time serving with the Muscogee County School District, I found Mr. Vega to be a competent attorney who cared deeply about the school district and its mission."

Ellington said in an email, "Jorge is great person and was a valued member of our law firm, which certainly included his participation with others here in representing the School District over the past seven or eight years.

"There is not one lead attorney. The firm meets the varied needs of the District by having attorneys with varied specialties and experience. Melanie Slaton, Sarah Sillitto and I will continue handling the matters that Jorge would have handled, but other members of the firm will continue to be involved when their area of specialization is needed."

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