School officials honor jurors, attorneys

Nov. 14, 2013 @ 05:02 PM

Four of the 12 jurors from the recent lawsuit between the Union County Board of Education and the Union County Board of County Commissioners attended Tuesday’s school board meeting, where they received lapel pins, words of thanks and applause. 

After a nine-week trial, the jury unanimously awarded the school system with a little more than $91 million. 

“From the bottom of my heart, thank you for the courage to do what you did,” Superintendent Mary Ellis told the jurors. 

“These folks gave nine weeks and four days,” Ellis explained to the crowd. She said that at the end of the testimony and evidence, they decided that “my children and yours had been short-changed.” 

School Board Chairman Richard Yercheck also thanked the jurors. He said their diligence and note-taking was “impressive.” 

Yercheck told the crowd that once all the minutes from the trial are typed up and compiled, he was told they will be around 10,000 or 12,000 pages. 

“This will be one of the defining moments of my life,” Yercheck said, talking about the trial. He also noted that December would be his one-year anniversary as a board member. 

Ellis agreed that the trial and the verdict could be a “defining moment” in her career. 

Attorneys Brian Shaw and Brandon McPherson, of the firm Schwartz & Shaw, also attended the meeting. Ellis explained that it was the first school board meeting since the trial ended and they wanted to attend.

Attorney Richard Schwartz was unable to attend the meeting, Shaw said. 

“You never know what a jury’s going to do in a lawsuit,” Shaw said. He said the best a lawyer can ask for is a fair jury. 

Shaw also noted that before this trial, the longest school funding trial had been about two weeks. 

“We all felt privileged” to support Union County Public Schools, he said. 

He told the gathered jurors they had done a lot for thousand of school children. 

Ellis noted that it was not about her, but about 42,000 children who attend Union County Public Schools. 

Jury Forewoman Kim Courtright talked said it was strange that she went from a second alternate to the forewoman. She said the jurors celebrated a lot of birthdays and anniversaries together during those nine weeks. 

“We loved hanging out with each other...almost like a family,” she said. “(It) builds a lot of character.” 

The $91 million verdict awarded by the jury is currently being appealed by the county.