Legal Trust Fund

The MASB Legal Trust Fund was established in 1975 to assist Michigan school boards involved in litigation having statewide significance. The Legal Trust Fund has granted assistance both in the way of financial support and amicus curie (friend of the court) briefs to help school districts at all levels of litigation, from the State Tenure Commission up to the Supreme Court.

With help of the Legal Trust Fund, boards of education can pursue cases they might otherwise have to settle because of the high costs of litigation. More importantly, every school board benefits when definitive answers are provided by the courts on complex legal questions affecting education in our state.

How does the Legal Trust Fund raise money to support school districts?

Every board of education that joins the Legal Trust Fund contributes a one-time initiation fee, which is deposited in a trust. Money in the trust is invested and the interest earned each year, together with a small annual renewal fee paid by Legal Trust Fund members, is available to help districts litigate important cases in the courts.

Who decides which cases will be supported by the Legal Trust Fund?

The Legal Trust Fund’s Board of Trustees is composed of seven trustees, representing school districts of all sizes, seven alternates, and a member of the MASB Board of Directors who serves as liaison with the Legal Trust Fund. Trustees and alternates are appointed by the MASB Board of Directors from among the boards of education who have joined the Legal Trust Fund.

How can a local or intermediate school board get assistance from the Legal Trust Fund?

A school board confronted with litigation of statewide significance may apply for Legal Trust Fund support. A short application form, describing the nature and status of the case, is considered by the Legal Trust fund’s Board of Trustees. Application forms are available from the MASB office.

What kinds of cases does the Legal Trust Fund support?

Through the years the Legal Trust Fund has assisted school boards in almost every type of lawsuit imaginable: taxation, student rights, teacher tenure, collective bargaining, sex discrimination, unemployment, special education, open meetings, shared-time programs, the Headlee Amendment, athletics and a variety of other school law questions.

Are there special criteria that must be met before a case is supported by the Legal Trust Fund?

Yes. The Board of Trustees must determine the case has statewide significance for other school boards and districts. In addition, the Board of Trustees considers whether the disposition of the case is likely to serve as persuasive precedent in future litigation and whether aid is currently being provided in other substantially similar lawsuits working their way through the courts.

What kind of assistance is available from the Legal Trust Fund?

Generally, the Legal Trust Fund helps an applicant school board by giving financial assistance to help pay the costs of the litigation or by writing and fi ling an amicus curie brief with the court. The purpose of an amicus curie brief is to buttress the school board’s position on the legal issues at stake.

How many cases have been supported by the Legal Trust Fund?

Since 1975, over 200 boards of education have received assistance from MASB’s Legal Trust Fund. The dollar amount varies, depending upon the costs incurred by the school districts, and generally ranges between $3,000 to $10,000. Sometimes higher awards are made. 

The Legal Trust Fund paid more than $128,000 in legal fees in a 1976-1984 class action maternity leave case won by Michigan school districts. The largest financial award authorized for a single district is $50,000.

Amicus curie briefs sometimes are more important than financial assistance. For example, a Legal Trust Fund brief filed with the Michigan Court of Appeals was instrumental in convincing the appellate court to set a new precedent in cases involving unprofessional conduct by teachers against students.

How many school boards are members of the Legal Trust Fund?

Over 75 percent of MASB’s member districts are members of the Legal Trust Fund. Membership in the Trust is not a part of a district’s regular MASB membership. All districts are urged to join. The more districts that participate, the greater the resources available to help all districts.

What does it cost to become a member of the Legal Trust Fund?

Each local or intermediate school board that joins the MASB Legal Trust Fund makes an initial contribution to the trust. Thereafter, a small renewal fee is assessed annually.

Why should our board be part of the Legal Trust Fund?

All school districts benefit from the work of the MASB Legal Trust Fund. The resolution of these major lawsuits helps boards of education in two ways. First, the district litigating an important issue receives needed assistance in financing its case. Second, every school board benefits by receiving definitive answers to difficult legal questions confronting all districts.

For further information about MASB’s Legal Trust Fund, contact:
Brad Banasik, J.D., Legal Counsel