by Max Brantley
LR School Superintendent Roy Brooks has been denied in his effort to throw Board president Katherine Mitchell and Board member Michael Daugherty off the board for purposes of voting at suspension and firing hearings for the superintendent.
Judge G. Thomas Eisele refused today to enjoin them from participating. He said he could find no precedent in law for that step -- disqualifying a public official prospectively. He said it would be premature to judge their fitness to participate and they were entitled to the presumption that they would behave properly.
The judge said the board members could rule as they desired after a hearing officer heard the case, but of course Brooks could then challenge any board decision as a deprivation of his rights or a breach of his contract.
Eisele noted that there is case law that could suggest that Mitchell and Daugherty would be wise to abide by a hearing officer's decision, rather than substitute a different judgment, given some of the allegations they have made against Brooks. He also said the letter Mitchell had sent to nine administrators warning them not to impede the removal action was "objectively threatening." Eisele took the step of assuring any employees that they could testify without fear of reprisal, which would be unlawful.
After "mature reflection," both sides should be able to conduct themselves properly, the judge said. He said the plaintiff could file an appeal of his ruling to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals.
A hearing scheduled in his court will proceed Wednesday morning. Brooks' lawsuit against Mitchell and Daugherty still stands, of course. Prediction: Eisele might instruct the parties to behave more like role models.
This removes a big roadblock to what Brooks' opponents hope is a speedy move toward Brooks' firing. Even if he were to sue over a 4-3 vote that ran contrary to a hearing officer's findings, his opponents believe they still would be able to instantly remove him, though he might sue for damages. They believe they could overcome any effort to win an injunction to keep Brooks in office in that circumstance. That might be wishful thinking.
Still, it is becoming more apparent that Brooks' critics favor firing, rather than my preference of a buyout with a 90-day notice, because they are anxious to put an interim superintendent in place and begin moving on other desired personnel actions. You do not have to be a fan of Roy Brooks to be unhappy about this development. It guarantees a continued bloody divide on the School Board -- and for the current majority the likely loss of many people who supported the move to oust Brooks. Many of us prefer a good-faith effort to restore some consensus in the School District.
Speculation: Should the current board majority succeed, look for a potential choice for interim superintendent on the list of nine who received Mitchell's letter.