Hearing delayed -- UPDATE | Arkansas Blog

Monday, May 7, 2007

Hearing delayed -- UPDATE

Posted By on Mon, May 7, 2007 at 5:20 PM

Federal Judge G. Thomas Eisele today delayed a suspension hearing the Little Rock School Board had scheduled tonight for Superintendent Roy Brooks. He said the board should prepare a list of charges justifying the suspension to be considered at the hearing.

Eisele didn't reach the question of whether Board President Katherine Mitchell and Board member Michael Daugherty should be barred from considering issues related to Brooks on account of alleged bias. He'll take more testimony on that question Wednesday.


Jennifer Barnett Reed reports:

Eisele delivered the ruling at about 4:45 p.m., just 45 minutes before the hearing had been scheduled to start. Specifically, Eisele ruled that the board could go ahead with the hearing only if a hearing officer presided and no earlier than five days after they provided Brooks with a “clear, concise, written list of grievances” specifically related to the suspension proceedings.

Attorneys for Brooks and the school board had disagreed earlier in court about whether they were close to having a hearing officer in place. Jess Askew, representing Brooks, said there were three people still being considered, two of whom were out of state. But the school board’s attorney, Chip Welch, said Askew’s firm had suggested local civil rights attorney Marie Miller, and that he had accepted, but hadn’t heard anything further from Brooks’ lawyers. (Miller is the special counsel who handled the disbarment case against Bill Clinton.)

Eisele separated the issues of whether the hearing should go forward and whether Board President Katherine Mitchell and member Michael Daugherty should be barred from voting on Brooks’ suspension and termination. He’s scheduled to take up that aspect of Brooks’ lawsuit at 9:15 a.m. Wednesday.

In his order, Judge Eisele ruled that the board hadn’t followed the due process protections in Brooks’ contract because members voted to suspend him without considering any specific charges against him. Whether that was the board’s intent isn’t clear: Board President Katherine Mitchell’s motion April 26 was to “suspend” Brooks “in accordance with his contract,” but the board had since then gone ahead with plans to hold a formal suspension hearing as called for in the contract, which presumably would have been followed by an official vote on whether to suspend Brooks.

The judge also ruled that Brooks’ contract required the board to provide him with a written list of charges that justified a suspension hearing, which they hadn’t done. Mitchell and board members Michael Daugherty and Dianne Curry testified that they believed the reasons for suspending Brooks were the same as the reasons to fire him — evidence, Eisele said, that “board members do not understand or appreciate the difference between suspension and termination proceedings.”

Despite Mitchell’s testimony, Eisele said, there does not appear to be any emergency situation that would justify suspending Brooks without providing him a written list of charges.

Mitchell wouldn’t comment after the hearing, but Welch characterized the ruling as at best a minimal victory for Brooks.

“It’s a ruling that doesn’t, at least so far, change the status quo for the board,” Welch said. “They can go ahead with the hearing. … [Eisele] just wanted to see a clear, concise set of charges.”

Welch said that list could be substantially the same as the list of termination charges already sent to Brooks, but that there could also be other issues involved. The suspension hearing likely couldn't take place any early than mid-week next week, only two weeks in advance of the hearing scheduled to consider cause to fire Brooks.

Read the judge's order here.

UPDATE: Brooks responded. He's pleased. But can't say more, because it's in court. Oh, he had one more sentence. You guess. Free Boulevard latte to first reader to correctly guess which of his stock lines he shook out of his magic Eight Ball. It's easy. Wind him up and out comes ....

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