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VOL. 126 | NO. 87 | Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Judge Mays Begins Schools Mediation

By Bill Dries

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U.S. District Court Judge Hardy Mays began the third attempt to reach a settlement in the schools consolidation lawsuit Tuesday with more private talks among the different sides.

This time, Mays himself appeared to be mediating the attempt to find common ground in the complex and contentious political turned legal dispute.

It was difficult to tell with a check-in table for the attorneys just off the elevators to keep reporters from seeing who was in the courtroom. Judicial mediations like the one Mays ordered Monday can involve the presiding judge appointing another active judge to do the mediation.

But there was no sign of another judge Tuesday morning as the session began. Mays had afternoon court hearings and had not cleared his court calendar for Wednesday.

Retired state criminal appeals court judge Joe G. Riley, appointed by Mays as a mediator last week, held two sessions that didn’t result in any significant movement.

Going into Tuesday’s closed session with Mays, Shelby County commissioners did make some changes in the ground rules for who will represent the legislative body.

Riley permitted only one county commissioner to attend the closed sessions and presumably one member each of the other elected bodies, the Memphis City Council, Memphis City Schools board and Shelby County Schools board so there could be no complaint that the sessions violated the state open meetings law.

It is an open question as to whether the law would apply to a conference in a judge’s chambers.

Nevertheless, county commissioners meeting Monday debated a resolution that clarified who gets to be the one commissioner in the future. Commissioner Mike Ritz proposed that it be the chairman of the commission or someone the chairman appoints.

Commission chairman Sidney Chism has designated commissioner and attorney Walter Bailey to represent the commission during the mediation sessions.

But the commission approved an amendment to the standing rules that says, “When attendance of multiple commissioners is impractical or not permitted, the chairman shall attend meetings including but not limited to court dates and mediation.”

If the chairman isn’t available, the commission will go by the chain of command. If the chairman can’t make it, the chairman pro tempore goes and then the chairman designates a member if the chairman pro tempore can’t make it.

That means commissioner Mike Carpenter is Chism’s backup, not Bailey.

Chism, Ritz and Bailey were the three votes against the amendment, which was passed with language drafted by commissioner Steve Mulroy.

Chism couldn’t make Tuesday’s mediation session, but Carpenter deferred attending for the time being.

“To keep from upsetting the apple cart, I’ll be unavailable and commissioner Bailey can attend so we don’t throw a wrench in the process,” Carpenter said.

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