Thursday, August 30, 2012

Today's Hearing re: "BCS Youth Prison"

First, my sincere thanks to all those who have expressed their support throughout this case.  We are grateful for the support of the community as we navigate this difficult time.

I spent the afternoon in Judge Lucas' courtroom today, listening to oral arguments in the latest BCS action against LASD.  Although the final ruling won't come out for a little bit, there were a few interesting take-aways that are worth sharing.

The first thing the judge did was to throw out all of the late filings from BCS.  She did observe that the late filings made it apparent how much of a moving target all of this really is.

The next observation she made was that she didn't think she had the authority to impose part of the negotiated settlement as an outcome to the case.  Specifically, she questions BCS counsel whether he could cite any case law that would permit her to award them one of the 4 campuses, since that was really part of a larger negotiated agreement.  BCS stressed that she has great flexibility in deciding how to enforce compliance with the earlier judgement, and that she should consider this as the best way to solve the issue.

So that's the first 10 minutes of the hearing.  The next 90+ minutes were devoted to the question of "jurisdiction".  The judge questioned BCS counsel about whether it was appropriate for her to hear this motion, given that all of the facts are different than the ruling from the Court of Appeals (on which they relied to bring this motion).  Of course LASD has asserted all along that it is not appropriate for this 2012-13 litigation to be shoehorned into the 2009-10 case, but BCS was very determined to make a run at that.  Over the course of the hearing, I came to understand why they were so fixated on this.  After all, to me it seems like they could just file a new lawsuit and we would have been in the same place.

The reality, though, is much different.  It appears that if the case is adjudicated under the 2009-10 judgement, there's a very different standard applied to weighing the outcome.  If the case is heard anew, as it should be, the District is afforded more latitude and the discretion we apply as elected officials is viewed under a different set of standards, one more recognizes our role as the local representatives of the public.

The judge seemed to grasp the key issue, that the facts for the 2012-13 offer are much different from the 2009-10 judgement.  We've given BCS much more space- more acreage, more classrooms, etc.  It just isn't possible to review this as part of the 2009-10 suit.  The evidence should be heard, not just taken for granted.

There were certainly some interesting moments.  At one point, in an attempt to steer the discussion to focus on K-6, BCS counsel tried to tell the judge "you can just ignore the 7th and 8th grade students".  She asked "how can I just ignore those students?"  That was an interesting exchange to watch.

The comment that most stuck with me, though, was the BCS counsel's description of their campus.  He posted huge blown up photos for the court to consider.  One was of Loyola, and it was clearly taken to highlight the lawn and the front office.  He then showed a second photo that was shot between two portables at BCS.  Never mind the fact that he's manipulating the evidence- of course we have photos of the space behind and between portables at the LASD campuses too, and those photos aren't flattering either.  I just about fell over, though, to hear him describe the BCS campus as "a youth prison".  I can't quite reconcile that with the description that BCS uses when they recruit parents and their incoming students, or when they write about their facilities in their charter renewal.  Really? Your own lawyer said your campus is a "Youth prison"?  Wow- what parent would ever send their kid to such a place?

The reality is much different, as we all know.  The judge didn't seem to react to much of the theatrics from BCS.  After the jurisdiction arguments, Judge Lucas simply announced "we're done", and that was it.  We didn't argue any of the facts of the case, and didn't get into the question as to whether BCS is a public school or not.  We'll just need to wait for her ruling.

The big question is, what comes next.  I believe that the judge was very thoughtful today, and carefully considering the key questions for at least this first aspect of the case.  She has the ability to do several things from here.
  • She could rule that she doesn't have jurisdiction under the 2009-10 case to hear this new set of facts.  Then BCS would probably file a new action, which would start the process anew.  
  • She could decide she does have jurisdiction, and then go on to rule on the merits.  I'd note, though, that she did not ask for any arguments on the merits today.
  • She could also decide that she does have jurisdiction, and ask us to come back and argue the merits.
I'm not going to try to guess what Judge Lucas will do from here.  However, I will say that she was thoughtful and contemplative today, as she has been in the past.  When she asks a question, she makes sure the lawyers answer what she's asked, and they can't get away with some sort of sideshow distraction technique.  We will need to wait to see what she has to say about this jurisdiction question, and whether she want to proceed on the merits, or if we will be looking towards a new case from BCS.  As they say the jurist is out on this, and we'll have to wait and see.