Judge rejects redistricting injunction

Jul. 24, 2014 @ 05:24 PM

Superior Court Judge Lucy Inman denied the motion for a preliminary injunction against the redistricting plan Wednesday.

The case, Kim Hillegas, et al. v Union County Board of Education and Union County Public Schools, was filed over the redistricting plan approved earlier this year. The case alleges that the process leading to the vote violated the open meetings laws of North Carolina and that the slowness in responding to public records requests violated the public records laws.

"Based on all evidence submitted to date, the Court finds no basis to conclude that the approval of the reassignment plan was unconstitutional and/or arbitrary or capricious," the judgment read.

"The Court acknowledges the impact of the reassignment plan on Plaintiffs and their frustration with the process by which the Board of Education adopted the plan," the judgment concluded. "It appears to the undersigned that Plaintiffs' complaints 'raise questions essentially political in nature, and the remedy, if any, is at the ballot box.'"

The quote came from the Coggins v. Board of Education of Durham case.

In the conclusions of law section over the violation of public records law, Inman wrote that the plaintiffs, CAPS, had not establish a substantial likelihood of success on their claim that UCPS had violate the public records law. 

Citing affidavits from Superintendent Mary Ellis and Plaintiffs Kim Hillegas and Aaron Asbra, the judge wrote that more than 100,000 pages of public records have been provided to the plaintiffs. 

"The volume and magnitude of the responses reflect Defendant's recognition of its responsibility to provide requested public records and established prima facie evidence of defendants' good faith efforts to respond.," In man wrote. 

Under the conclusions of law for the alleged open meetings law violations, Inman wrote that the plaintiffs had not established a likelihood of success on their claims and had not established that the school board violated the open meetings law during the Nov. 6, 2013 facilities committee meeting. 

"There is no evidence before the Court that Board of Education member Marce Savage, who attended the meetings, took any action to participate in the meeting as a member of the Facilities Committee or that she voted on any actions so as to establish a quorum of Board of Education members meeting in violations of the Open Meetings Law," the decision said. 

Inman also noted that the open meetings law does not require the venue for public meetings be large enough to guarantee space for every member of the public to attend, but it does require a public body to act reasonable and take reasonable measures to provide public access to meetings. 

The judgment said that in light of the two public hearings and numerous meetings the public attended, the court concluded that the plaintiffs did not show a likelihood of proving that the school board engaged in a pattern or intention of dealing with redistricting secretly or outside of the public eye. 

Inman wrote that the "mere existence" of a scripted motion, such as the three that were read at the March 4 meeting, did not compel or persuade the court that a majority of board members secretly met prior to the board meeting. 

She wrote that any inference from the script along is outweighed by the uncontradicted affidavits of the eight surviving board memebers, which said they did not participate in and were unaware of any illegal secret meetings. 

Inman also wrote that in weighing potential harm to the plaintiffs if the injunction is denied versus potential harm to the school board if the injunction is granted, that the plaintiffs "have not demonstrated that they will have or will suffer irreparable harm as a result of the Board of Education's alleged violations of the Public Records law and/or the Open Meetings Law." 

"Giving all due consideration to the impact to Plaintiffs of redistricting, and fully appreciating the potential impact of redistricting on students and families, the Court finds that the balance of hardships in this case does not support the issuance of a preliminary injunction," the judgment said. 

Aaron Asbra, a member of CAPS and one of the plaintiffs in the suit, said they were disappointed by the decision but not surprised. 

"After sitting in the courtroom...we got the feeling that it was not going to go in our favor...it wasn't much of a surprise," he said. "Ultimately we're disappointed." 

He said going forward CAPS will continue to help the parents who are appealing the reassignments individually. He said that while redistricting can't be stopped in time for the schools opening in the fall, there are still a number of parents who are filing appeals.

With regard to the lawsuit, he said it is still technically active and the parents involved are discussing what to do next. He said a lot of them would like to continue, even though they cannot stop reassignment in the fall. 

He said they will continue to push for responses to their public records requests and that when School Board Attorney Richard Schwartz said that 70 of the 76 requests had been filled that was "absolutely not true." 

"Until they engage the public in a meaningful way" the parents will continue, Asbra said.

Schwartz could not be reached for comment before press time.