SUSD superintendent reimburses district for legal fees to send resident cease and desist letter

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Denise Birdwell, a school Superintendent who is currently on paid leave with the Scottsdale Unified School District, used district funds to hire an attorney to send letters to people she claimed were trying to interfere with her district contract.  From the beginning, the attorney suggested this was a personal issue, rather than a district issue, and should be paid for by Birdwell. Friday, a district spokesperson confirmed Birdwell hand-delivered a reimbursement check to the district.

"I just took it as her lashing out and trying to intimidate me," said Susan Hughes. She said days after she sent an email to two SUSD board members outlining some concerns over potential conflicts of interest, she got a voicemail from superintendent Denise Birdwell.

"I am really running short on patience with all the rumors you keep saying about me," said a woman identifying herself as Birdwell in the voicemail Hughes provided to Arizona's Family.

One of those concerns had to do with Louis Hartwell, the district's COO, who is also the brother of Birdwell's housemate. He recently resigned.

[RELATED: Documents raise questions about SUSD superintendent's personal ties]

Then, Hughes said, she got a letter from attorney Kraig Marton.

"It basically said, 'The purpose of the letter is to demand that you immediately cease and desist,'" Hughes said.

In emails obtained through the district, last June Birdwell asked Marton to retain his services, saying a Scottsdale community member was trying to interfere with her contract with the district. Marton responded, asking whether he would represent her or the district, saying from her description, it sounds like she personally would need counsel.

An SUSD spokesperson said the district contends it should not have paid for that. The spokesperson also said Birdwell hand-delivered a reimbursement check of $4,312.50 to the district Friday, signed by Marton's law firm, JaburgWilk. 

"It does surprise me she thought it was a proper use of public money," said Karen Treon, who was mentioned in one of Birdwell's emails to Marton. Treon said she never got a cease and desist letter.

Treon and Hughes said they have been communicating with the Attorney General's Office.

[RELATED: Attorney General, SUSD reach agreement regarding civil claims against district]

"I think most of the things I've been concerned about have turned out to have been shown to be correct," Treon said.

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Lindsey ReiserLindsey Reiser is a Scottsdale native and an award-winning multimedia journalist.

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Lindsey Reiser

Lindsey returned to the Valley in 2010 after covering border and immigration issues in El Paso, TX. While in El Paso she investigated public corruption, uncovered poor business practices, and routinely reported on the violence across the border.

Lindsey feels honored to have several awards under her belt, including a Society of Professional Journalists Mark of Excellence Award, Hearst Journalist Award, and several National Broadcast Education Association Awards.

Lindsey is a graduate of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, and she currently serves as a mentor to journalism students. She studied for a semester in Alicante, Spain and also earned a degree in Spanish at ASU.

She is proud to serve as a member of United Blood Services’ Community Leadership Council, a volunteer advisory board for the UBS of Arizona.

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