N.C. Supreme Court denies request to drop plaintiffs from Leandro lawsuit

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The N.C. Supreme Court voted 4-3 Tuesday against dropping a group of plaintiffs from the latest stage of the long-running Leandro school funding lawsuit. The ruling was in response to a request filed by attorneys for state lawmakers.

The group labeled Plaintiff-Intervenors or the Penn-Intervenors, identified in the filing as part of the Charlotte Mecklenburg County School Board and the Charlotte chapter of the NAACP, have been working alongside the original Leandro plaintiffs to push for more court-ordered education spending.

The vote was along party lines among the justices, with Democrat Associate Justices Hudson, Ervin, Morgan, and Anita Earls voting against dropping the Plaitiff-Intervenors. Chief Justice Paul Newby and Associate Justices Barringer and Berger, all Republicans, dissented in the decision.

Legislators requested earlier this month that Supreme Court Justice Anita Earls recuse herself from the Leandro case because she worked for the Plaintiff-Intervenors as their attorney in the case back in 2005. Earls denied the recusal request Friday.

“Justice Earls held that, although she signed Plaintiff-Intervenors’ initial complaint, she did not need to recuse herself because ‘the facts and claims at issue in the Intervening Complaint — which largely concerned student assignment policies in CMS — are entirely unrelated to the questions presently before this Court,’” Tilley wrote in the request. “In addition, Justice Earls introduced an August 2005 order from the trial court — which had not previously been made part of the record on appeal — that clarified that Plaintiff-Intervenors were only permitted to intervene for the limited purpose of pursuing their claim related to the conditions in CMS.”

On Wednesday, August 31, The state’s high court hears oral arguments in the Leandro case, officially titled Hoke County Board of Education v. State. The case dates back to 1994 and a lawsuit filed by five county school systems against the state of North Carolina and the State Board of Education. The state Supreme Court already has produced major opinions in the case in 1997 and 2004.

In the current dispute, justices will decide whether a trial judge can order the state to spend an additional $785 million on education-related items. Those items are linked to a court-sanctioned plan, dubbed the comprehensive remedial plan. That plan stems from a multiyear, multibillion-dollar proposal developed for the trial court by San Francisco-based consultant WestEd.



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