A judge has ruled that Andrea Barr, the chief auditor of Baltimore County Public Schools, can keep her job, shooting down a county school board challenge over a vote that should have renewed her contract.

Baltimore County Circuit Court Judge Sherrie Bailey granted Barr a preliminary injunction Thursday morning after a two-day trial between Barr and the county board of education. Barr can continue working until the court can hold a trial on the merits of the case. A hearing has not yet been scheduled. The board is not allowed to retaliate against her, nor interfere with her employment.

At the heart of the case was a May 17 special meeting where six members of the then-11-member board, including the student member, voted to renew Barr’s contract. However, two board members recused themselves and three abstained, prompting the lawsuit because not enough members voted for the renewal. The board’s handbook states seven votes are needed to approve agenda items.

“This phase of this fight for justice is over,” Kathleen Cahill, the lawyer representing Barr said after the decision. “Ms. Barr is very relieved and thrilled to have been provided the right to continue her exceptional career, to work hard for what is right and without threat or unlawful retaliation.”

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She has also appealed the vote to the state board of education, but it has not yet made a ruling. Cahill said she is unsure when a ruling is expected. Barr also filed a retaliation complaint to the Office of the Inspector General of Education. A decision on that complaint has not yet been made, either.

During the trial, Barr and former and current board members described in testimony an unpleasant work environment caused by board members, especially current board member Kathleen Causey.

“There’s some concerning information that has been presented,” Bailey said in an explanation of her ruling.

She said allowing Barr to continue working causes no harm to the board or the school system. There would be harm caused to Barr if she cannot work. Not only financial harm, she said, but difficulty in finding another job in this economy.

The judge said in a court document that there is a likelihood Barr will prevail in a hearing on the merits of her claims.

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Bailey also raised concerns about issues raised in closing arguments by Craig Meuser, the lawyer representing the school board, who described how board members have treated people. Specifically, a 2019 investigation by the law firm of Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough in response to a complaint that alleged Barr was bullied by board members and that they created a hostile work environment. Meuser noted that the investigation did not find evidence that Barr was targeted by board members, as the complaint suggested, because the board acts that way toward everyone.

Lily Rowe and Russell Kuehn were the members who recused themselves from the vote and Causey, board chair Julie Henn and Lisa Mack abstained.

Meuser said Cahill could have asked the board members why they recused and abstained but she did not issue subpoenas.

“She had a right to put them on the stand but she didn’t,” he said during closing statements.

Cahill said after the hearing there was no reason to subpoena Causey.

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“We knew we had the evidence needed,” she said.

Meuser said during the hearing that the state board allowed the county board to stick with its guidance that seven votes are needed to pass an agenda item. And that there was no evidence that Barr was retaliated against for doing her job.

The temporary restraining order granted to Barr last month, which allowed her to continue working after the board tried to dismiss her, expired today.

“This should not be Ms. Barr’s last day of employment,” Cahill said in her closing statement.

She called the May 17 vote a “scheme,” and said that the board’s handbook does not outweigh state law and that a majority vote is needed to pass a motion. The defense didn’t submit anything into evidence aside from the 2019 investigation, which Calhill said was unusual.

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“It’s surprising, but I’m not shocked,” she said after the hearing.

She also said Eric Brousaides, the board’s lawyer in this case, is also the board’s primary lawyer. He was also the lawyer noted in the audit review by Barr and the state that found the board was in violation of hiring an outside attorney. Brousaides also advised the board on the day they took the May 17 vote, Cahill said.

Brousaides declined to comment after the hearing on Thursday.

But what was most “glaring,” she said, is that the defense did not give an explanation about why the board allegedly manipulated the vote to renew Barr’s contract.

“They didn’t say why because they cannot answer that,” she said.

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This story has been updated.

kristen.griffith@thebaltimorbanner.com

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