Judge suspends school segregation lawsuit hearing, cites plaintiffs' lack of resources

Thursday, January 13, 2011 at 2:06pm

Citing an imbalance of the quality of representation between well-funded Metro schools and plaintiffs suing the district, a federal judge on Thursday suspended a hearing on the rezoning suit against Metro until a later date.

A status conference has been rescheduled for Jan. 20, and the hearing will pick back up Jan 26.

In the meantime, U.S. District Court Judge John Nixon has asked plaintiffs’ attorney Larry Woods to seek assistance from the NAACP Legal Defense Fund as a way to bring additional resources to their case — an argument hinging on the allegation that the district’s student assignment plan adopted last year has re-segregated students along racial lines.

“This is an extremely important case,” Nixon told the courtroom. “It’s important to the people of Metro Nashville-Davidson County.

“I’m not satisfied with the quality of representation of the plaintiffs,” he continued. “I’m not certain you have the resources.”

Nixon stressed that his remarks weren’t a reflection of the legal expertise of Woods, a long-time Nashville civil rights attorney; rather, the judge said it’s a “question of the resources.” Hence, the playing field should be leveled, the judge believes.

“Metro obviously has the resources for this kind of case,” Nixon said.

On one side of the courtroom were defendants, including Director of Schools Jesse Register. Metro attorney Kevin Klein, representing the school district, flew in a handful of expert witness to Nashville to appear at the hearing. Defendants have also hired Washington, D.C., attorney John Borkowski, who was in attendance. 

To their right were plaintiffs Jeffrey and Frances Spurlock, who contend the district’s student assignment plan re-zoned their African-American daughter from a high-performing middle school in Bellevue to a low-performing school in historically black North Nashville, a school they say lacks quality teachers and resources.

Woods, the attorney, along with his lawyer son Allen Woods, represent the Spurlocks. Plaintiffs did not bring any witnesses to the hearing.

On Thursday, the judge was scheduled to hear the plaintiffs’ proposal to eradicate the district’s 12-cluster zoning system in favor of a new mega-cluster set-up based on socioeconomic considerations. The judge had asked for a re-zoning proposal to better understand the plaintiffs’ case.

Instead, Nixon pointed out the legal representation discrepancies, and parties agreed on the new dates to convene.

“We feel like we should win right now, but we recognize the court’s concerns and the importance of this case,” said Klein, speaking on behalf of Metro schools.

Woods said his law firm has invested approximately $75,000 in the rezoning suit when the plaintiffs ideally need about $150,000 in resources. He also said he’s previously sought assistance from the NAACP Legal Defense Fund — an organization that helps fund suits that deal with racial injustice — to no avail. He said he would try again.  

In addition, Woods said he would seek aid from “three or four” other outside groups, including several Washington, D.C.-based organizations and The Civil Rights Project, which is part of the University of California, Los Angeles.   

17 Comments on this post:

By: JeffF on 1/13/11 at 1:46

Does Nixon only pop up on cases that he has pre-decided? He seems to only take cases that allow him to bend society to his political beliefs.

By: JohnGalt on 1/13/11 at 2:16

Nixon would be perfectly happy to enter a default judgement in favor of the plaintiffs if he could find a way.

By: dogmrb on 1/13/11 at 2:44

Some citizens of Davidson County don't appreciate the former school board who got us into this pickle. We'd rather our tax dollars be spent on improving schools than supporting Metro lawyers and high powered consultants to testify in court.

By: nashpar on 1/13/11 at 3:41

the former school board did not get us citizens in this pickle. The plaintiffs attorneys did. The school system had a community wide task force and went through a process and made a decision. They have the information, resources and attorneys who back up their decision. This case should be dropped due to the large amount of time that has already been given to the plaintiffs. Even the legal defense fund did not support them and neither did the civil rights project.

By: Tn.activist on 1/13/11 at 5:28

Though rare in TN. judicial system, a very appropriate decision. Very few judges at any level have the courage to ask tough questions and make tough legal calls to protect all parties in TN courts. Judge Nixon is among the few. A number of issues here: 1) A TN citizen or small group has an overwhelming obstacle in seeking justice when going up against the government; unlimited resources of their own tax dollars( forget it if you're poor,sick,or severely injured). 2) The government can delay and wait til die, if need be.
3) Few know this or care unless they are severely maimed; the Draconian laws still in place
limit the government's liability to $250,000 per incident, not per person. 4) The competent Pro Bono attys are the same, year after year. Every few years they'll be given a Thank you (chump plaque) for doing my job, or firm's job for me/us.
Separate issue: Equal access to a quality education is a serious problem that did not go away just because we said "we're good!" Just look at the demand and lottery chaos every year for the Magnate school slots.

By: Wild Bill on 1/14/11 at 7:18

I am with the plaintiff. You move out to the white suburbs and what do they do, they bus you right back into the inner city schools.

By: govskeptic on 1/14/11 at 8:14

Judge Nixon? Why on earth is this incompetent(former general sessions)
still allowed to hear cases, isn't he retired? One couple and one fee
seeking law firm overturns the collective work, time, judgement of the
entire school board?

By: richgoose on 1/14/11 at 8:23

Judge Nixon has already ruled on this case in his mind. He is asking the underclass to give him a little bit more help.

For those that want neighborhood schools you should send your kids to private school. Were it not for busing and school districts like the liberals want the underclass would never have any contact with the people who provide their welfare.

I laud Judge Nixon for his fervent efforts to bring the underclass a school system all of their own.

By: yogiman on 1/14/11 at 9:33

I thought segregation was abolished in 1964 by Lyndon Johnson. Why is it being brought back into our nation?

It looks purely political. For the vote, perhaps?

By: Carol Williams on 1/14/11 at 9:34

Judge Nixon's decision is very interesting to say the least. This is how our court system works. Can you imagine judging lawyers financial status on each side rather than the case at hand? The small law firm against the mega firms who represent affluent individuals and companies happens everyday. The difference in this case is our Metro Schools do not need this extra expense. How can a judge suddenly make this decision after months of hearings and financial burden on both sides? The truth is the plaintiffs have had plenty of time to present their case and to get outside sources financially involved. Is Judge Nixon trying to build this/his case instead of letting the system work?

By: Tull on 1/14/11 at 10:00

"I am with the plaintiff. You move out to the white suburbs and what do they do, they bus you right back into the inner city schools."
I didn't sue the goverment when they sent me to Pearl high school when I lived in the "white suburbs", I adapted and overcame and it made me a stronger person.

By: anativebornsout... on 1/14/11 at 10:04

Just look at the stats on metro schools and you will find out the majority there.
Some of Metro schools have been under corrective acttion for years, and some
of those school are in the affluent out of zone areas where the majority of the
students are blacks. The obvious problem is no parental involvement. The
parents should be held accountable for their children's actions. If they don't pass
a class, if they are disruptive, if there in gangs, if they don't listen in class they
need to be kicked out. Evidence proves even the affluent out of zone schools have
had no success in teaching some of these children. Taypayers aren't interested
in funding an educational system where children aren't interested in learning, and
the parents don't care about there child's education. If you have a don't care attitude
you want do well in any school.
Now... it has been said that some students should have a guaranteed spot at
academic magnet schools. How is this fair??? it is not. Everyone in this state
including kids in private schools should have access to any public school including academic magnet schools - we all pay taxes, and the lottery system
is a fair way to rule out injustices. Children attending there own school zone would
save the school system money, and our taxes wouldn't increase every year. It would mean: Fewer buses, all children having the opportunity to participate in sports, no before or aftercare programs for the older kids 11 and up, fewer traveling time for parents, children can have more time in the day to concentrate on homework, and test, instead of riding a bus for 45 minutes or waiting in aftercare for several hours,
parents could be more involved in there local school, and there children's activities.
Parents neet to get involved. Studies prove that children that have parents involved in there lives do better academically. No affluent out of zone school will ever replace
parental involvement. Sorry... the school can't do it for you.

By: EDUNITED on 1/14/11 at 10:12

Judge Nixon is a reliable judge for any Left of center cause. That's why the plaintiffs sought him out. Why doesn't Nixon just rule now. From his history, the result is a foregone conclusion. Same can be said for Barbara Haynes not recusing herself when her daughter's law firm represents the city. These are good ol' girls and boys morally corrupting the system.

It is more important to figure out how to educate our citizens. But that has been too much work for these "usual Democrat suspects" on the Left. One-half century of failing the middle class and poor in our public schools points out the substantive failure of the current system that racial and socio-ecnomic tweeking has not and will not fix.

By: CrimesDown on 1/14/11 at 1:38

I can understand if the school system had sued them. They would need a chance to respond. If I'm not mistaken, the family sued the schools. If they weren't prepared to proceed, they shouldn't have sued. If they aren't prepared, they should have to pay all the legal fees.

By: Loretta Bridge on 1/14/11 at 5:21

What is the problem???? Your kids are being treated equally. They can get the SAME
BAD education at EVERY school in Davidson county.

By: dogmrb on 1/14/11 at 5:24

Again. The tax payers are paying for this. It's not the "defendants" who have deep pockets. If they thought that they personally would have had to pay for this suit, I doubt they would have proceeded with the changes.

By: localboy on 1/17/11 at 11:18

Fair and balanced...Judge Nixon = future FOX analyst.