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What the Federal Judge Said (in Laymans Terms)

ORDER The judge is being asked to consider a case. In this case, the Plaintiff wants the judge to tell the Governor of Georgia that he cannot suspend members of the DeKalb School Board. The judge has already read everything that both sides of this argument have presented and listened to their side of things on March 1, 2013. He is now going to officially write down his instructions in this matter. BACKGROUND But, before he tells you what he has decided, he wants you to understand the background of this particular situation. The DeKalb County School District (DCSD) was placed on a status called Accredited Probation, by an accrediting agency called SACS (the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools). They were given a notice that said they had to present some information to their higher-ups, the State BOE (Board of Education). There is a law that requires the state BOE to set this hearing if a situation like this arises. The DeKalb board members must present a case that explains any valid reasons why they should not lost their jobs. Earlier, on Feb. 20, 2013, the school board tried to stop the state BOE from holding a hearing by asking for a temporary restraining order. Dr. Eugene Walker also requested the same thing as an individual as a member and chairman of the DeKalb school board. But, together, the requests were denied. So, the next day, Feb. 21, the state BOE held the hearing, which is similar to a court trial, but with different rules that are not as strict as a criminal trial. After the hearing, the state BOE voted and decided to recommend that the Governor suspend 6 of the 9 members of the local BOE. Three of them were not serving in office at the time the school system accreditation was lowered to the Probation status so the law for suspension by the Governor does not apply to them. After the decision, the school board and Dr. Walker individually asked the state court for an emergency motion for a temporary restraining order to stop the Governor from suspending them and to stop him from appointing replacements. The state court ruled on Feb. 22 that the request was denied, but in the meantime, the federal court decided they should also be kept in the loop since the decision might be a violation of the right to vote which is guaranteed under the U.S. constitution. The states ruling said that the Governor could go ahead and do whatever he was going to do, but if he suspended anyone, they would not actually lose their jobs, but they would not be allowed to conduct any official business. Also, if he named new folks to the school board, they would not be permitted to take office until the mess was figured out about whether the suspended ones would be allowed to stay. The judge said the purpose of this action was to maintain the status quo. On Feb. 25, the Governor did go through with suspending the 6 members of the DeKalb school board, but he did not immediately name any replacements. When school board and Dr. Walker learned that the federal court was interested, they decided to drop their lawsuit from the state court. So, on March 1, the federal hearing took place. The judge heard from both sides and then considered what he might do based on the evidence. DISCUSSION Basically, what the 6 school board members and Dr. Walker wanted the court to do was called a preliminary injunction. The judge cited another federal case that called this request to be something that was considered extraordinary and drastic. For that reason, there would be a lot of stuff that the school board and Dr. Walkers side would have to prove to the judge. They would have to show that the reason they were being removed from office were not very good reasons.

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They would have to show that with the court helping them in this way, the harm that could result would be something that could never be repaired. They would have to show that their side was going to face the tougher loss if they do not get their injunction to stop them from being removed. They must prove that the judge would not be going against the best interest of the public if he did decide to grant the injunction. Then the judge cited some other federal cases that proved these things were necessary because thats how it was done there, too. Those things he listed are called the standards. He has to use them to make a decision on things that the attorney for the school board and Dr. Walker is asking about. They say the 14th amendment of the U.S. constitution will be violated AND the Georgia Constitution. Dr. Walkers lawsuit says the same. The answer is a little different as to why there was not enough proof that the amendment would be violated and he explains it a little further. The judge said he can tell you what he thinks about the U.S. amendment portion, but he thinks it is better that the State of Georgia Supreme Court rules on the issue about whether or not the state constitution would be violated. A. Fourteenth Amendment Claim 1. DeKalb County School District The defendants (attorney representing the citizens of the state of Georgia and the Governor of Georgia) have asked if the School District is even allowed to bring this lawsuit against them at all. They mentioned some cases that show that the court is limited in what it can do in a democratic society. The school district is a subdivision of the state of Georgia and there are laws stating that a subdivision of the state cannot challenge a state statute. The defendants also state that there is no injury for the school board to be complaining about in the first place. They say that the school board is only making a general complaint about government, but they have to show actual harm that would be caused if the judge does not stop the Governor from acting. There is no harm to the public at large because the school board positions are intended to be filled by members of the general public, not by specific people who cannot be replaced. And, Dr. Walker cannot show that he would personally be harmed in any way because he will be suspended with full pay. The judge decided that the question about whether or not the school district can bring a lawsuit against the state doesnt really matter right now. He thinks the biggest issue is whether or not the Plaintiffs (school board and Dr. Walker) can actually prove that there will be any harm if the court does not act in their favor. Without proving that, there is no merit on which to base the case. The judge says that due process of law requires proof that someone is being deprived of their rights to life, liberty or property without some type of notice and the opportunity for a hearing. While Dr. Walker could be asserting that he is being denied a form of property (income, in this case), there is nothing identified that the school system or board members collectively would be denied if the 6 members are removed and replaced with 6 other members.

The school district does not exist to serve any particular person. Rather, it is simply a necessity at a board be in place so that business can be conducted. It must allow the Governor to appoint

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replacements whenever there are vacancies so that the school districts business will not have to be interrupted. So, the judge says he has not seen any evidence that show that there is any loss of property interest for the school district and therefore there is no merit for a claim under the 14 th amendment of the U .S. Constitution. 2. Dr. Eugene Walker

Unlike the school district, Dr. Walker does have property that should be protected under the 14 th amendment so his claim can go forward. However, he would have to show that he was facing a loss of that property and that is not the case. Dr. Walkers case is based partially on the fact that he has the right to a hearing before being terminated from his office. The Georgia law requires that he be removed first and then have a hearing for reinstatement. The judge said that the fact that the suspension is with pay does make up for some of the trouble being created by this process of offering a hearing after the fact. Dr. Walkers side said that it could take up to 9 months for the hearing and the judge said he didnt think that sounded unusually long. The board members received notice of the state BOE hearing and received a copy of the SACS report that listed the claims against them. He decided the notice was fine. He did think the SACS report lacked some detail (like exactly whom on the board was being accused of what), but he decided that an ordinary person exercising ordinary common sense can sufficiently understand the accusations. So, the judge decided the notice and pre-determination process was fine. And, the post-termination portion of the law that allows the members to a hearing for reinstatement is an additional way to ensure they are not being treated unfairly. So, the judge thinks it is fair to say that Dr. Walker does not have a case based on the 14 th amendment claims. B. State Law Claims The Plaintiffs say that the state law violates the Georgia Constitution. They say that there is a section that says that their positions, as elected officials, must be treated differently for removal purposes. They believe that the lawmakers do not have the authority to make a law that would create a means for their removal because both they and the lawmakers are elected officials. They also point out that the state constitution mentions that an additional qualification must be require before suspension of an elected official and the law that is being used to remove them does not include this additional qualification. The law is called the School Board Suspension Statute and it was passed in 2010. To date, the Georgia Supreme Court has not taken up any of these state constitution issues. With all due respect to the states and their authority over public education, the federal judge says he will not be ruling on these issues. They need to go back to the state court, but theres only one problem: that case was dropped. So, it will have to be filed again if the Plaintiffs want to go forward with it. But, that might take a lot of time, so there is another way to go about it. The federal judge says he can certify official questions that are asked to the Georgia Supreme Court. Since he thinks that it is critical to get all this done as quickly as possible, he will ask for the answers on the state questions first and then make his final decision. So, both sides should meet and decide what questions they would like to ask of the Georgia Supreme Court. If they cannot agree after 10 days, then they can each submit their own separate set of questions to the court. C. Injunctive Relief Neither the school system nor Dr. Walker has presented anything that shows a good enough

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reason for the judge to stop the Governor from moving ahead, at least not from a federal perspective. There might be a slightly better chance at the state level, but nothing can be ruled until they get the answers back from the certified questions. The lawyers do make a persuasive argument about the lawmakers not being authorized to make the suspension of school board provision in the first place, but there is a general assumption that they are duly authorized to do whatever they want, so there isnt much of a chance that this argument is going to fly, either. Since the board members are currently unable to perform their duties but will still receive full pay, there is no real loss for them. If by some wild chance the states answers to the questions would end up changing the judges mind, then they would still get their jobs back and the only loss would be a few months of service. Thats not too big of a deal, really. The public, on the other hand, has an interest in seeing their own elected officials actually serve in office. However, the public has an even bigger interest in seeing the public education system succeed. There was enough evidence to convince SACS and the state BOE that the DeKalb Board of Education deserved to be placed on Probation. And, the harm that could be caused by a total loss of accreditation would be far more profound that the harm of any single board member being out of a job. In fact it would be far easier to make things up to the board members if they were to win their case eventually. But, it would be nearly impossible to make up the loss of accreditation to the students. Based on everything stated above, the judge denies the request to stop the Governor and he takes back the restraining order that was previously issued in order to temporarily stop the Governor from fully suspending the 6 board members and appointing new ones. CONCLUSION Like the man just said, the request to stop the Governor is denied and the temporary restraining order is removed. The federal court will direct the state court to answer the certified questions after the parties agree to what those questions are. If they cannot agree, they can send separate questions. That is the official order. Today is March 4, 2013 Richard Story, U.S. District Judge
(This summary is not an official approved document of the court. It is a private interpretation of the judges written decision. Author not responsible for any errors that may have occurred in the attempted translation to laymans terms.)

Copyright 2013 Get the Cell Out - Atlanta Chapter