Committee might finalize attorneys’ contract

By Megan Knowles

The contract to change the two Student Legal Assistance attorneys’ employment status could be finalized this week.

The contract idea was proposed by NIU President John La Tourette after he froze $15,000 of Student Association allocated money to the Student Legal Assistance Office. The money was supposed to give a salary increase and a benefit package to longtime attorneys Don Henderson and Lynn Richards.

At the March 24 Student Legal Advisory Committee meeting, Student Regent James Mertes said he felt the only way to get the money released was to change the attorneys’ employment status from independent contractors to university employees.

Mertes proposed a different plan to change the employment status. Under his plan, the students would still remain in control and would save money because the SA would not be responsible for the attorneys’ benefit package.

The contract had not been finalized at Monday’s meeting. The committee could not agree where the Student Legal Council should report. University Legal Counsel George Shur said that he “felt strongly” that the attorneys should report to the Office of Student Affairs. However, committee member Matthew Wetstein suggested that the attorneys report to the Ombudsman. Mertes said the reporting issue needs clear and concise rules.

“I have no idea of how this is going to work. If a glitch comes up, a review can be made at the request of the advisory committee. If something needs to be refined, we can do it,” Shur said.

Mertes said he wanted the contract to have a “shift of burden clause” in case there are differing opinions in the attorneys’ review. If the vice president for student affairs’ review is different than the SA advisory committee, it would be up to the vice president to prove the review.

Mertes, who will be attending April’s Board of Regents meeting Thursday, said he questions approving the necessary student fee increase before the contract is signed. He said he has been considering tabling the vote at Thursday’s BOR meeting. “It’s premature to give money before signing the contract,” Mertes said.

Leonard Mandell, assistant dean of the College of Law, said he would talk to Shur to try to reach agreement on the contract before the BOR meeting. However, Mandell said he is concerned that everyone is pleased with the contract before signing it and that no loopholes have been overlooked.

“This plan is something we on campus feel strongly about. I don’t want to do anything here to jeopardize this plan,” Shur said.