Monday, March 16, 2015

Judge Griffen denies delay in school case hearing

Posted By on Mon, Mar 16, 2015 at 12:02 PM

Judge Wendell Griffen in a telephone conference last Friday denied a request for a delay in a scheduled preliminary injunction hearing Wednesday and Thursday by plaintiffs in the lawsuit challenging the state Board of Education's takeover of the Little Rock School District.

The state Education Department's lead attorney, Jeremy Lasiter, had asked for a delay because a family member will be undergoing surgery Wednesday. Plaintiffs lawyers were agreeable to the request. But the judge said the department's other lawyer, Lori Freno, was capable of representing the state. She had said that Lasiter had greater institutional knowledge. She's been with the department two years.  Griffen said she was an experienced lawyer and denied a postponement.

The judge also chastised the department for failing to copy Baker Kurrus on its request that the judge get off the case for comments he'd made critical of a  state takeover before the vote was taken. Kurrus was named by Education Commissioner Tony Wood as a volunteer to advise on improving the district's financial situation. He's a former Little Rock School Board member and had been named by the former School Board to work on a financial task force. The state is not representing Kurrus,

The Kurrus issue became moot today. Plaintiffs asked that he be dismissed as a defendant in the case and the judge granted the motion.

The judge denied the recusal motion last week before the state had filed a reply to plaintiffs' response to the recusal motion. He has issued a supplemental opinion reiterating his refusal to recuse. He wrote:

Due process requires that litigants receive equal treatment under the law, but there has never been a requirement in the law that judges be un-opinionated in order to be deemed, or to appear to be, fair-minded. Conversely, the law does not disqualify fair-minded judges who hold opinions that litigants may consider disagreeable from fulfilling our duty to hear and decide the cases we are assigned. Judges are obliged to follow the proof and the law in arriving at our decsions, not our preconceived opinions about issues or parties. Meanwhile, litigants are not entitled to remove impartial judges from hearing and deciding lawsuits by exercising what amount to peremptory challenges labeled as recusal motions.


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