By Curt Yeomans
A sitting Clayton County Board of Education member, who has been censured by his colleagues for representing a former teacher in a lawsuit against the school system, is asking Clayton County Superior Court Judge Deborah Benefield to review the case.
Board member Michael King was censured on Oct. 6, because he did not immediately disclose to system officials, or other board members, he was involved in the case when he took office on Aug. 25. He waited a month to inform the school system of a problem, but even then, it was by merely crossing out a word in a conflict-of-interest affidavit. On Sept. 30, a federal judge threw out the teacher's case against the school system..
On Nov. 5, King filed a petition for a Writ of Certiorari, which is a request for judicial review. In the petition, King said the board kept him from participating in a Nov. 3 executive session, in which legal matters were discussed. As part of his censure, King is forbidden from participating in closed-door discussions in which legal strategies are discussed.
When contacted by phone on Thursday, King said he wants to get this case moved into a higher court, outside of Clayton County.
"Hopefully, I can [eventually] get a review of this law by the Georgia Supreme Court," said King.
"This is really all about getting the accreditation back. This kind of legislation would distract the board from doing what it needs to do. The board wants to step outside its authority by using a policy that violates state law," he said.
King wants Benefield to overrule his censure, and to have the board's ethics policy, and a state ethics law created specifically for the school board, declared too vague to be used by the board.
Julie Lewis, the general counsel for Clayton County schools, declined to comment on the petition, because it is a case of a board member taking legal action against the school board.
The state ethics law was created earlier this year to ensure that Clayton County school board members act in a professional and ethical manner at all times. Unethical and unprofessional behavior by board members led to the district's loss of accreditation in September.
King's request for a judicial review is the first test of how useful the ethics law will be in reforming a school board that has been deemed dysfunctional by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
"Petitioner [King] maintains that Section 2(a)(4) of Georgia House Bill 1302 is unconstitutionally vague because the terms '[r]epresent private interest' and 'any action or proceeding' are not objectively defined," King said in his petition to the court.
"The bill could be interpreted to unlawfully prevent a board member from filing a legal action against board members, the school system and employees of the school system for violating his federal and Georgia constitution and statutory rights," King continued. "Section 2(a)(4) could also be interpreted by some persons to sanction legal representation, action and interests involving a school board member, which existed prior to the time the member was sworn [in] as a board member ..."
Although the case has been assigned to Benefield, no hearing date has yet been set, according to staffers in her office.