As a whole bunch of lawyers including Norm Pattis and Michele Mount for the multiple plaintiffs and John Bohannon and Steven Ecker for the defense prepare arguments before the Connecticut Supreme Court on Thursday about state control of city schools, former Superior Court Judge Carmen Lopez filed this commentary jewel with the CT Post:
The front-page article in Wednesday’s Connecticut Post comprehensively addressed the legal issues surrounding the state takeover of the Bridgeport Board of Education.
The residents of Bridgeport have been appropriately advised of the significance of Thursday’s hearing before the Supreme Court.
Like other Bridgeport residents who are still trying to comprehend how it was possible for so many out-of-towners, including Meghan Lowney of Fairfield, an employee of Steve Mandel, the Greenwich hedge fund billionaire, to secretly act in concert with members of the governor’s office, the mayor’s office and the state Board of Education to overthrow a democratically elected local board of education, I am looking forward to hearing the legal arguments.
In order to be prepared to follow the arguments of the lawyers and the questions of the justices, I have taken some time to read the briefs of the parties, as well as the brief of the non-parties.
A few days ago, non-parties to the action received permission from the Supreme Court to file a brief as “friends of the court,” or “amicus curiae.” These non-parties are the Bridgeport Regional Business Council, led by Trumbull’s Paul Timpanelli, the Bridgeport Public Education Fund and an education reform group, Excel Bridgeport.
These “friends of the court” are represented by Pullman and Comley, the firm in which Bridgeport’s bond counsel, John Stafstrom, is a partner.
Both the plaintiffs’ brief and that filed by the attorney general on behalf of the state Board of Education have framed the legal issues the court must decide.
The reconstituted board, led by Robert Trefry, an Easton resident, has also filed a brief. It will be remembered that one of the first official acts of this newly appointed board was to hire an attorney with public funds to contest claims brought against them as individuals. The claims brought against them challenge their right to hold their offices (quo warranto), and have nothing to do with their duties, responsibilities or performance as members of the reconstituted board of education.
The observations which follow are not necessarily made as a person who has received legal training, but rather as the daughter of parents who arrived in Bridgeport, from Puerto Rico, more than 50 years ago, in search of the American dream. Although my dad did not work in the corporate offices of GE, but rather in the factory, he cared about Bridgeport.
Unlike the plaintiffs and the attorney general, the brief filed by the reconstituted board largely eschewed legal arguments or case law analysis. Instead, the brief involves statistical compilations, spiced with polemics. The brief of the “friends of the court” echoes the sentiments of the unelected board.
Indeed, the brief is in support of the unelected board.
Both briefs boil down to one simple belief: We the distinguished corporate executives, business leaders and suburban activists are here to save you, because you, the residents and taxpayers of the city of Bridgeport, cannot govern yourselves and are in need of saving.
Without shame, they brandish their resumes for the court to appreciate, describing themselves as “present and former executives of Bridgeport area companies and an education scholar.” Although the appointed board also counts as members a Latino parent activist, who was included as an afterthought by the interim commissioner of education; a member of the African American clergy, who also happens to be the campaign treasurer of the mayor; and an African American female involved with charter schools, the imbalance in the power structure of this board leaves no doubt as to who is running that show.
The picture that emerges from their brief is an elitist mind-set of privilege and power that seeks to turn back the clock to the “bad old days” that Americans should have long ago consigned to the proverbial trash heap of history.
Their briefs seem to envision an America where “the good people” do good for the “less fortunate,” but don’t permit them to share equally in the governing process.
The state Board of Education drew a line synonymous with the municipal borders of the city of Bridgeport. Those outside the line, to the east in Stratford, to the north in Easton and Trumbull and to the west in Fairfield, will all vote for their members of their local boards of education on Nov. 8.
Those inside the line, two thirds of whom are African American or Hispanic, and many of whom constitute the working poor, will be denied that right of self-government, which their suburban neighbors will freely exercise. The area inside the line, the city of Bridgeport, is a designated area for those residing safely outside of it to play, experiment and dispense charity.
Similar to a playground and a laboratory, Bridgeport has been used by outsiders for many reasons. They reap financial rewards for practicing kindness to others who may be a little less fortunate.
If these actions would not be tolerated in Meghan Lowney’s Fairfield, Bob Trefry’s Easton or Paul Timpanelli’s Trumbull, then they cannot be tolerated in the city of Bridgeport.
We can only hope that the Supreme Court will function as a court of justice, not merely as a court of law, and the wrongs to which we have been subjected will be righted.