With a court hearing scheduled today, Norm Pattis, the attorney for two elected Board of Education members, files his latest commentary about control over city schools.
The war of attrition has already set in on the Bridgeport school board case. Notwithstanding the 6-1 decision of the Connecticut Supreme Court declaring the state’s ouster of elected school board members to be unlawful, the state board still remains in power. Apparently it intends to govern by inertia for as long as it can.
Just this afternoon, the legion of lawyers involved in the case were ordered to appear before Judge Agati in the Waterbury Superior Court at 10:30 a.m. (Thursday). The topic could be nothing other than the Supreme Court’s direction to him to order a special election to fill the vacant seats on the board, the seats that were not filled when the state cancelled the November elections and told the residents of Bridgeport that they were too stupid to elect their own school board.
Within hours, counsel for the state board of education notified all concerned that the trial court lacked the jurisdiction to act. After all, a Practice Book Rule permits parties to file motions for reconsideration and clarification. The board, apparently, is confused. It did not understand the Supreme Court’s decision. I knew the Justices were too kind the pinstriped pirates running the schools. It wants to attack the decision by indirect means, and enjoy the offices it filled with hand-picked, unelected board members in the meantime. This is in sharp contrast to the 96-hour heist the board engaged in during July 2011, when elected board members were deposed.
A couple of us argued back and forth about whether there should be a hearing of any sort tomorrow. I argued that there should be. Time was of the essence. Government by inertia is wrong. The defendants, who have been found to have broken the law, are entitled to no delays. If they think delay is required, let them ask the Supreme Court for it.
Huff, I postured. Puff, the state board’s lawyer responded.
The trial court judge did not back down. We are ordered to appear tomorrow. The lawyers for the defendants just didn’t have the courage to say to the trial court what the logic of their position demanded: In the absence of authority to appear, we refuse to attend. They know how to spell nominal compliance with the law when it suits them.
Then a court clerk offered an olive branch. Tomorrow is not a hearing. No, no way. It is a mere “informational session” with the judge, whatever that is.
The state board dropped its objection to attending. If it’s not a hearing, well, I guess we’ll show, seemed to be the message.
Not to be outdone, a lawyer for the City of Bridgeport joined the fray after it was over. Here’s an excerpt from his email: “The City defendants intend to exercise all rights and remedies available to them before the Supreme Court–which presently retains exclusive jurisdiction in this matter–and object to any substantive proceedings before the Superior Court at this time. I will, however, be in attendance at the informational session scheduled for 10:30 tomorrow morning. Thank you for your attention to this matter.”
Yes, there is an educational crisis in the Park City. But it ain’t the school kids who are in need of remedial work. What of the city’s lawyers? We won’t attend a hearing, but we will attend an informational session. That’s all right with us. Just serve milk and cookies. Of course, the state board appears to be in no position to offer remedial education: Its lawyer is serving up the same sour gruel.
Expect a bitter fight throughout the spring and summer to seat an elected board. Yes, the Supreme Court has ruled, but its ruling is not self-enforcing. Only in Connecticut do we let a school board selected by a means in flagrant violation of the law retain power indefinitely because it is good for the kids. It’s sort of like letting a bank robber hold the stolen cash because his children have come to depend upon him for support.
Only in Bridgeport? Not if Gov. Dannel Malloy has its way. He wants the same sorry story told in cities throughout the state. It’s going to be a long spring and summer, I predict. I doubt elected officers will hold their seats before Labor Day. Lawyers for those who seized power on the board by unlawful means will see to it.