by Max Brantley
John Walker, the lawyer who represents black parents in the Little Rock desegregation lawsuit, has gotten a second extension of time to file an appeal of federal Judge Bill Wilson’s ruling that the district is constitutionally desegregated and thus free from further court proceedings.
This has made critics of Walker nervous – for good reason. They believe he is buying time to get the School Board, now controlled by a majority that has been generally sympathetic to his point of view, to approve his idea of a “settlement” of the case. It would include a continuing monitoring role for Walker – something opposed by a number of people in the district – plus legal fees for Walker. Under terms of previous court orders, Walker already has been paid for his role in the case. What’s more, it’s not customary to pay lawyers on the losing side, which Walker was in the case-ending analysis of whether the district had met requirements to monitor programs aimed at improving performance of black students.
All of which sets the stage for Thursday evening’s School Board meeting. Rumors have been rampant that the Board was prepared to vote to approve Walker’s “settlement” proposal.
Not so, says Board member Michael Daugherty. He said he had asked Board president Dr. Katherine Mitchell to schedule a discussion and possible action on referring Walker’s idea for a “settlement” to mediation in federal court.
“My reasoning is that I’m really uncomfortable about continuing litigation,” Daugherty said. “If we send it to a mediator, hopefully both sides will be bound by whatever he says. It does not mean we would be simply giving in to Walker or anyone else.”
Walker had proposed earlier a closed mediation involving members of the School Board. This would run afoul of the state Freedom of Information Act, which prohibits closed meetings of members of the School Board except to discuss certain personnel issues.
Daugherty said he envisioned a conventional mediation between legal representatives and the federal court, not including the School Board.
Daugherty noted that legal proceedings continue despite Judge Wilson’s ruling and that, while many believe that ruling will be upheld, there’s no guarantee. “I’m tired of litigation. I’m tired of having to pay all this money and not getting anywhere. I’m ready to put an end to it.”
The proposal seems simple enough and, on its face, a third way to address a potentially explosive issue. If it develops in this fashion, with parties agreeing to follow the advice of an impartial mediator, it might be a good outcome. But nothing has been easy in recent School Board politics. It's worth noting, too, the point of view of Michael Daugherty and others in the current Board ruling majority -- the federal courts have been a help to the district and a friend to black students over the years. The end of the court's involvement is not universally celebrated.
REFERENCE: Here's Walker's settlement proposal.