Schools Case Attorneys Talk Mediation

By Bill Dries

Mum is the word after attorneys in the federal court municipal schools lawsuit conferred by phone Thursday, Nov. 15, for a second day about a possible mediation effort in the case.

During the conference call with Memphis Federal Court Judge Samuel "Hardy" Mays, Mays reportedly ordered all sides not to talk about any details of the discussions.

Attorneys on all sides of the case began talking about the possibility of mediation Wednesday during a regularly scheduled telephone conference with Mays.

The exploration of a mediated settlement to the case comes as Mays is set to rule at any time on whether the state laws governing the formation of the suburban municipal school districts violate the Tennessee Constitution.

And in January, Mays is scheduled to open a non-jury trial on the more complex federal Constitutional claims by the Shelby County Commission.

The commission and its attorneys argue that the separate school systems in each of the six suburban towns and cities in Shelby County would violate the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution because they would racially resegregate public schools in Shelby County.

The conference Wednesday was very general and did not get into which of the parts of the case the mediation might involve. No method of mediation was discussed either.

All sides had agreed as part of the case schedule set earlier that they would talk about the possibility of mediation of some kind of some issues in November.

A note in the electronic case file entered late Wednesday reads: “Parties agreed that court may hold mediation; Counsel to check with their respective clients.”

The gag order Mays reminded all sides of Thursday is the same ground rule he insisted on last year when he personally mediated the settlement among all sides that set the terms for the transition to consolidation of the county’s two public school systems.

The mediation of those terms began after Mays ruled on the first part of the federal court case that is a critical part of what amounts to a multi-faceted reformation of public education in Shelby County.

Mays ruled that the schools merger was legal and could go ahead.

The mediation yielded a settlement on the terms of the merger in which all sides also agreed not to appeal the court’s ruling.

During the mediation all sides abided by the gag rule. But notices of the mediation sessions were posted in the electronic case file.