Citing an imbalance of the quality of representation between well-funded Metro schools and plaintiffs suing the district, a federal judge on Thursday suspended a hearing on the rezoning suit against Metro until a later date.
A status conference has been rescheduled for Jan. 20, and the hearing will pick back up Jan 26.
In the meantime, U.S. District Court Judge John Nixon has asked plaintiffs’ attorney Larry Woods to seek assistance from the NAACP Legal Defense Fund as a way to bring additional resources to their case — an argument hinging on the allegation that the district’s student assignment plan adopted last year has re-segregated students along racial lines.
“This is an extremely important case,” Nixon told the courtroom. “It’s important to the people of Metro Nashville-Davidson County.
“I’m not satisfied with the quality of representation of the plaintiffs,” he continued. “I’m not certain you have the resources.”
Nixon stressed that his remarks weren’t a reflection of the legal expertise of Woods, a long-time Nashville civil rights attorney; rather, the judge said it’s a “question of the resources.” Hence, the playing field should be leveled, the judge believes.
“Metro obviously has the resources for this kind of case,” Nixon said.
On one side of the courtroom were defendants, including Director of Schools Jesse Register. Metro attorney Kevin Klein, representing the school district, flew in a handful of expert witness to Nashville to appear at the hearing. Defendants have also hired Washington, D.C., attorney John Borkowski, who was in attendance.
To their right were plaintiffs Jeffrey and Frances Spurlock, who contend the district’s student assignment plan re-zoned their African-American daughter from a high-performing middle school in Bellevue to a low-performing school in historically black North Nashville, a school they say lacks quality teachers and resources.
Woods, the attorney, along with his lawyer son Allen Woods, represent the Spurlocks. Plaintiffs did not bring any witnesses to the hearing.
On Thursday, the judge was scheduled to hear the plaintiffs’ proposal to eradicate the district’s 12-cluster zoning system in favor of a new mega-cluster set-up based on socioeconomic considerations. The judge had asked for a re-zoning proposal to better understand the plaintiffs’ case.
Instead, Nixon pointed out the legal representation discrepancies, and parties agreed on the new dates to convene.
“We feel like we should win right now, but we recognize the court’s concerns and the importance of this case,” said Klein, speaking on behalf of Metro schools.
Woods said his law firm has invested approximately $75,000 in the rezoning suit when the plaintiffs ideally need about $150,000 in resources. He also said he’s previously sought assistance from the NAACP Legal Defense Fund — an organization that helps fund suits that deal with racial injustice — to no avail. He said he would try again.
In addition, Woods said he would seek aid from “three or four” other outside groups, including several Washington, D.C.-based organizations and The Civil Rights Project, which is part of the University of California, Los Angeles.