Education effort continues despite change in judge
For Immediate Release: September 16, 2008
Contact: Joe Martin, 404-872-9651, www.casfg.org
ATLANTA - The Consortium for Adequate School Funding in Georgia announced today that it has withdrawn its lawsuit in the Fulton County Superior Court so that it can take other actions, including the filing of a new lawsuit in another court in Georgia.
Although Judge Elizabeth E. Long has presided over this case for more than three years, the Consortium learned earlier this month that the case was being transferred from Judge Long to Judge Craig L. Schwall – only seven weeks before the trial was scheduled to begin.
"This could have been a major setback," said Jeffery C. Welch, President of the Consortium, “but we have taken an action that will enable us to pursue other routes in achieving our goal. As shown by the hurdles we have cleared previously, we will not be deterred in our continuing effort to improve the opportunities for all of Georgia's students."
The Fulton County Superior Court was recently told to end the use of senior judges as a result of cuts in the judicial budget by the State of Georgia. This decision had a direct impact on the Consortium's lawsuit because Judge Long is a senior judge. The Consortium proposed a way for Judge Long to retain the case, but the State objected.
"Coming on the eve of the long-awaited trial, the transfer of our case to a new judge created serious problems," said Joseph G. Martin, Jr., Executive Director of the Consortium. "We lost the benefit of the substantial knowledge that has been acquired by the previous judge and faced the prospect of further delays in the case. We were also concerned that the critical issues in this case would not receive a fair hearing under the new judge."
Judge Schwall, who was appointed to the Fulton County Superior Court by Governor Sonny Perdue in 2005, has a well-known political record and philosophy about government. He has been involved in several controversies and has been criticized by the Georgia Supreme Court for improper conduct regarding a case in his court.
Dr. Welch added, "The issues in this case are so vital to the future of our state that there should be no question about whether the judge would be impartial.”
Mr. Martin also stressed that the most recent cuts in state funds have been especially harmful to the local school systems that were already in financial difficulty. It is crucial, he noted, for the Consortium to use the resources provided by its members in the most prudent way and to adapt its approach as necessary to meet new challenges and opportunities.
Looking ahead, Mr. Martin said, “The problems in the financing of Georgia's schools have become so widespread that we will seek the support of all school systems in Georgia. This interruption gives us the opportunity to refocus the issues in the case and file a new lawsuit."
Although these steps are now underway, Dr. Welch reiterated the willingness of the Consortium to reach an out-of-court settlement. He said the Consortium has made a specific request to the Governor for this purpose and has offered to let the Governor appoint a mediator.
Mr. Martin added, “The State and the Consortium could resolve the issues in this case in a way that responds to the current economic conditions by phasing in the needed improvements over time. By negotiating a settlement, both sides could avoid the substantial costs that would result from further litigation.”
The Consortium is a coalition of 50 school systems throughout Georgia. The lawsuit asserts that the State of Georgia is not fulfilling its obligation under the state constitution to provide an adequate education for all of its students.
The Consortium's lawsuit was filed in 2004 and assigned to Judge Rowland W. Barnes. After the death of Judge Barnes in 2005, the case was assigned to Judge Long. The State's motion to dismiss was denied by Judge Long in 2005, and her ruling was allowed to stand following an appeal by the State to the Georgia Supreme Court. Most recently, Judge Long denied the State's motion for summary judgment in August of 2008, clearing the way for the start of the trial on October 21 as previously scheduled.
For further information, contact Joe Martin at 404-872-9651 or visit the Consortium's website at www.casfg.org.
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