Lynette Carrington The Right to Education Leo Condos and the Condos Law Office has built a very specific niche, serving Arizona’s burgeoning charter school community. The journey that led Condos Law Office to this particular focus held a unique personal twist. Hailing from Indianapolis, Leo Condos attended law school at Indiana University. “Both of my folks came from Greece. I was the son of an illegal and spoke only Greek until I was 5 years old. They implored me to be successful in school because education was important for success. They wanted me to be a professional,” he said. “At that time doctors and lawyers were about the only professions I knew of and I did not like blood, so it was going to be the lawyer side. Combining that with Perry Mason always winning his cases, I decided early on that I wanted to be a lawyer.” Once his course was set, there was no deviation from his lawyerly path. The Indiana campus has a lot of internship programs. “I clerked for a sitting judge in the trial courts and learned a lot of the practical side of the law,” Condos noted. “Being Greek, I ended up throwing up the shingle by myself and I initially did a fair variety of cases. I did some criminal cases and found that I enjoyed going to court. I became a trial lawyer in Indiana and eventually focused on a personal injury practice and was even on TV for a while.” He went on to become a master commissioner for a few years and eventually grew weary of the way the court system did not often dispense true justice. He soon became involved with mediation. After training in Florida, he was elected president of the Indiana Association of Mediators. Shortly thereafter, he did the crazy mid-life crisis thing and moved to Arizona. The Dawn of Arizona Charter Schools Condos initially began in mediation when he moved to Arizona, but personal events in his own life steered his law career in yet another direction. At the same time that mediation was ramping up in Arizona, so was the proliferation of charter schools. It was then that Condos experienced the difference and benefits that a charter school could make. “We had put our children in the Mesa school district. My youngest had some special limitations,” he said. “We found the Mesa school district very deficient on the special education side so we ended up putting her into the very first charter school that was chartered by the state board, which was Carmel Community Arts Charter School in Chandler.” Uncharted Legal Waters The school asked Condos to assist them with legal matters when the teachers, convinced the state board to issue a letter of intent to revoke in an attempt to oust the founders. When asked to assist the school, Condos dove in head first. “These were brand new laws and nobody really knew the procedures, so we just sort of walked together with the attorney general’s office and the state board in trying to figure out what we were supposed to be doing. We were able to work out an agreement and that was the very first consent agreement resolving differences,” Condos explained. Shortly after that another letter of intent to revoke a charter was received from a school in Lake Havasu City and once again, Condos was called to assist. “I look at it like these people have a problem, let’s solve the problem, even if it means we have to make some changes in the operations,” Condos said. “There were no charter school lawyers anywhere, so my reputation got out.” He also assisted with setting up 501(3)(c) nonprofit corporations and advising as to compliance with the tax laws. When the occasion arose that a charter school couldn’t make it financially and had to close, Condos made the process smooth. “They’re like a small business. Not only do they have to fulfill all the educational laws, but they also have the IRS and nonprofit corporation laws and all the other business issues,” Condos noted. He also assists with leases, setting up their bylaws, helping them develop their boards, contracts, employment challenges and other issues often encountered by small businesses. As charter schools grew more numerous the Condos Law Office grew. Condos believes that he has helped almost half of the schools chartered by the boards in one area or another. “I’ve had as much work in Arizona as I like to do,” he noted. One of his proudest moments came in 2001. “I represented six schools and we were able to put together the framework for charter schools to get tax-exempt bond financing through the industrial development authorities,” he said. “It allowed them to get the money to build their own schools.” Many charter schools in their initial years leased space from churches or strip malls. Recently, Condos Law assisted charter schools in Missouri, California and Minnesota. Of note, he assisted the sound man who had been with the artist Prince in opening a charter school in Minnesota that was based heavily in music. He was recently able to avoid the closure of the Thomas J. Pappas School for homeless children in the inner city. He especially enjoys, coming from his own ethnic and lower socioeconomic background, helping schools with high minority enrollment, lower economic environments, and high special needs students. Yet, he has also helped some of the top tier schools in t
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