With the unanimous vote of the newly reconstituted DeKalb school board this week, any suspended board members who want to fight their ouster were set adrift. They now have to front their own legal costs in court.
Former school board chair Eugene Walker intends to do just that.
But he is seeking donations to defray his legal battle. In a post on this blog about the importance of challenging the state law, Walker explained, “If this unconstitutional act is to stand, then what is next? It will only be a matter of time before another constitutional right will be taken away by another wayward and self-perpetuating politico under the guise of the greater good. Minorities should not feel secure if contrived allegations from anonymous sources with hidden agendas can go to private agencies and to have their civil rights stolen away. This cannot and shall not be allowed to stand.”
Ronald Carlson, a professor emeritus at the University of Georgia law school, told the AJC’s Ty Tagami that the 2011 law allowing the governor to remove school board members based on a probationary ruling by SACS rather than any proven wrongdoing likely will be questioned again if applied elsewhere, so “there’s probably a public interest in this case going forward.”
“I can’t afford to do this out of my own pocket,” said Walker, who was suspended Feb. 25. “I’m going to ask people who believe as I do — one person, one vote — to give whatever financial support they can.”
Before Deal replaced two-thirds of the nine-member board, attorney Bob Wilson was hired to represent Walker and the district — and by implication the old school board — in the showdown with the governor and the Georgia Board of Education.
Wilson’s bill for the lawsuit and other services over seven weeks through March 1 came to more than $164,000 Wilson, a former DeKalb district attorney who helped lead a governor’s investigation into test cheating in Atlanta and Dougherty County, said he could not comment about his future role in the DeKalb case “because of ethical considerations.” But Walker said Wilson could not continue representing him because he’s “the school system’s lawyer.” Walker said he is seeking new counsel.
The lawsuit contends the Georgia General Assembly handed the governor unconstitutional powers to remove elected school board members. The governor acted under a 2011 law that authorizes intervention in districts placed on probation by their accreditation agency, in this case the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
Walker said he’s “not eager” to serve on the school board again either and might retire if he wins. “I’m not fighting to keep a position on the board,” he said. “My fight is to eliminate what I see as an unconstitutional law.”
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog