Bar­rett

Walker County Messenger - - Front Page -

Court of Ap­peals for the Eleventh Cir­cuit af­firmed part of the Cir­cuit Court judge’s de­ci­sion, va­cated part of his de­ci­sion and re­manded a por­tion of the case back to Judge Mur­phy for fur­ther ac­tion.

On Oct. 12, Raines is­sued a state­ment say­ing he could not com­ment on par­tic­u­lars of the case, as the law­suit is on­go­ing. He did note the pol­icy in ques­tion had been in place for about 30 years and that it had been Bar­rett’s de­ci­sion to not at­tend a board meet­ing and air his con­cerns about grad­ing poli­cies.

The full con­tent of that state­ment ac­com­pa­nies this ar­ti­cle.

McGonigle said the fed­eral judges agreed the school board pol­icy was overly re­stric­tive and left too much dis­cre­tion as to when some­one could bring an item be­fore the board in the hands of the su­per­in­ten­dent.

In the ap­pel­lant court’s de­ci­sion, Cir­cuit Judge Rosen­baum ref­er­enced leg­endary bas­ket­ball coach Dean Smith, who was fa­mous for his Four Cor­ners of­fense, a strat­egy that is all about con­trol­ling the clock and of­ten in­volved stalling play to keep the ball away from op­po­nents.

“Con­trol the clock and con­trol the game,” Rosen­baum wrote. “Win­ning coaches in many sports have em­ployed this strat­egy. And plain­tiff-ap­pellee Jim Bar­rett as­serts that the les­son wasn’t lost on de­fen­dan­tap­pel­lant Walker County School District, ei­ther. To speak at a Walker County Board of Ed­u­ca­tion meet­ing, the District re­quires a mem­ber of the pub­lic to first go through a process that can con­sist of sev­eral steps. If the en­tire process is not com­pleted at least one week be­fore the Board meet­ing, the ci­ti­zen may not speak at the meet­ing. Yet crit­i­cally, the Board com­pletely con­trols the tim­ing of a step at the begin­ning of the process. If the Board drags its fee in com­plet­ing this step, a mem­ber of the pub­lic can­not fin­ish the rest of the steps in time to be per­mit­ted to speak.”

Bar­rett’s le­gal team — McGonigle, along with at­tor­neys Gerry We­ber and Craig Good­mark — agreed the clear prob­lem with the WCBE pol­icy was its strictly set­ting a time line for ac­tion with­out guar­an­tee­ing that time­frame could be met. They noted that “in some dis­tricts, no ad­vance no­ti­fi­ca­tion is re­quired.”

Pre­vi­ously, the board mem­bers and su­per­in­ten­dent have said ad­vance no­tice is nec­es­sary if spe­cific ques­tions or tech­ni­cal mat­ters are to be brought forth.

Such ac­tion is not un­com­mon in mu­nic­i­pal or county meet­ings, but such mat­ters are of­ten con­sid­ered as “new busi­ness” and, if not acted on im­me­di­ately, are tabled for study and acted on as “old busi­ness” at a fu­ture meet­ing.

But the man­ner of sched­ul­ing agenda items — who could speak and on what top­ics — was seen as censorship by the court.

We­ber, a highly re­garded at­tor­ney con­cern­ing mat­ters of civil lib­er­ties and civil rights, said the mat­ter could have been avoided if WBE, like so many oth­ers, al­lows any­one to speak — within a stan­dard time limit — by sim­ply plac­ing their name on a signup sheet at meet­ings.

Since the pol­icy has been ruled il­le­gal, Good­mark said the board can ei­ther ap­peal the ap­pel­lant court’s rul­ing or change the pol­icy.

The case has been sent back to Judge Mur­phy for de­ter­mi­na­tion on whether Bar­rett was il­le­gally de­nied his First Amend­ment right and, if so, would he be awarded mon­e­tary dam­ages.

Bar­rett’s coun­sel es­ti­mated le­gal fees as­so­ci­ated with the orig­i­nal law­suit could eas­ily ex­ceed $100,000 and the same amount could be billed for the ap­peal. That means the fed­eral court could or­der the school sys­tem, through its in­surer, to pay Bar­rett’s le­gal costs.

It is im­por­tant to note that the ap­pel­lant court’s de­ci­sion was pub­lished — not just up­held or re­jected — which means it is law through­out the Eleventh Cir­cuit that con­sists of Alabama, Florida and Ge­or­gia.

“This is a sig­nif­i­cant win for ed­u­ca­tors and all cit­i­zens who are con­cerned about their pub­lic schools in Ge­or­gia and through­out the 11th Cir­cuit Court of Ap­peals,” GAE Pres­i­dent Sid Chap­man said. “This rul­ing main­tains their rights to freely speak be­fore a school board to ex­press their con­cerns whether or not they are com­pli­men­tary of the school board. It puts school boards on no­tice that they can­not muz­zle ed­u­ca­tors and other cit­i­zens when it comes to mat­ters con­cern­ing their schools and chil­dren.”

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