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Judge says school lawsuit NOT over

Fourth District Judge Deborah Bail issued a ruling today in the long-running school lawsuit saying that the case is not over and the state is not off the hook for allowing schoolchildren across the state to go to deteriorating and even unsafe schools. School districts won their lawsuit against the state last December when the Idaho Supreme Court ruled the current system for funding school construction unconstitutional, and ordered the Legislature to fix it. But last spring, attorneys on both sides of the case said the high court’s clerk told them the case was now over, and at a hearing on related issues in September, the Supreme Court justices indicated they thought they’d handed the final word on the issue over to the Legislature and ended the case.

That prompted the state’s attorney, Deputy Attorney General Mike Gilmore, to tell Bail at an October hearing that he didn’t think the Legislature needed to do anything further. “Right now there’s nothing indicating that a court judgment requires changes,” Gilmore said.

In her ruling today on several pending motions in the case, Judge Bail strongly disagreed, writing in a footnote, “This is a plain misreading of the Supreme Court’s opinion, which made it manifestly clear that it was confident that the Legislature will make the necessary changes in the system of school funding in ‘good faith and in a timely manner.’ Hopefully, the legislators and legislative counsel will read the opinion for themselves.”

Bail ruled that she has no jurisdiction to rule on pending motions in the case for now, because the Supreme Court retained jurisdiction in the case in its December 2005 decision, in which it issued its formal opinion that Idaho’s school funding system is unconstitutional. “While the Opinion is final, the case is not over,” Bail wrote.

In her ruling today, she also wrote, “It is not credible that, after all of this time, that the Supreme Court has somehow abandoned Idaho school children. … This court disagrees. The parties should re-read the Opinion. The Supreme Court indicated a desire to give the Legislature time to act. The Supreme Court has consistently and firmly acted with respect to every single appeal in this litigation. It has been consistent throughout in holding that the Legislature cannot simply ignore its constitutional duty which is imposed by the plain language of Article IX, Section 1 of the Idaho Constitution.”

In September, the Supreme Court justices said they’d further clarify their position on where the case stands when they issue a ruling in a related matter, regarding a “special remedial master” whom Bail had appointed to pinpoint needed school repairs. That ruling is still pending.


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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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