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Court date set in BOE ethics case

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

A Clayton County Superior Court judge is scheduled to hear arguments next week on whether a 2008 ethics law, used in an ongoing effort to remove Clayton County Board of Education member Michael King from office, violates the Georgia Constitution.

King, and attorneys for the Clayton County Board of Education, and its ethics commission, are scheduled to appear June 30, at 1:30 p.m., in courtroom 405 at the Harold R. Banke Justice Center, 9151 Tara Boulevard, Jonesboro, to argue the merits of the case, according to Superior Court Judge Geronda Carter's calendar for that day.

An April 14 court hearing in the case ended with Superior Court Judge William Ison delaying the matter because Ethics Commission Chairman Robert Flournoy had not been properly served by sheriff's deputies. Court records show service of the ethics commission took place on May 17.

"At least I have a hearing," King said Monday.

If King wins the case, it could threaten a mechanism put in place last year after unethical behavior by former school board members put the school system's accreditation in jeopardy.

King has argued that the Georgia General Assembly's 2008 Clayton County Board of Education ethics law, which created the board's ethics commission, violates the state's constitution, which he said forbids the legislature from creating a "special law" that conflicts with an existing general law.

The Official Code of Georgia Annotated contains a general code of ethics for elected officials, which King has asserted is the only ethics law by which he has to abide.

King said a hearing in a Cobb County case in which he is involved has also been scheduled for June 30, but he plans to notify the judge in that case that he will need to be in Clayton County Superior Court that day.

"This one should take priority," King said. "I'm going to let the [Cobb County] judge know I will be in Clayton County first so we can move forward in this case."

King said Monday he will appeal his case to the Georgia Supreme Court if he is not successful at the superior court level.

Clayton County Board of Education Ethics Commission Attorney Winston Denmark could not be reached for comment on Monday.

Alex Barfield, one of the attorneys for the school board in the case, said he is not authorized to comment on the matter, except to say he and fellow school board attorneys Jake Zuniga and Ronald Polly will be at the hearing next week.

King challenged the constitutionality of the school board ethics law in early March, after the board's ethics commission ordered his removal from office because of his involvement in a former Clayton County teacher's federal lawsuit against the school system, and the school board, last year.

Last fall, former school system General Counsel Julie Lewis alleged King had not notified district officials that he was representing the former teacher when he took office in August 2008. King was initially censured by his colleagues for not informing them of his involvement in the case, but school board Chairperson Alieka Anderson also filed a complaint with the ethics commission about the matter.

The commission ordered King's removal from office during a one-day hearing in February. King responded by filing the request for declaratory judgment challenging the law, as well as a request for a restraining order to stop the school board from accepting the ethics commission's order. The restraining order was denied at the hearing in April because the school board had already acted on the matter.

The 2008 ethics law, which pertains solely to the Clayton County school board, was created in response to concerns the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) had about the ability of school board members to act in an ethical manner. Those concerns helped lead to the agency's decision last August to revoke the school system's accreditation.

The accreditation was restored in May, but the district remains on probation and must undergo return visits from SACS officials every six months for the next two years to ensure the district remains on track.

While the school board voted in late March to uphold the ethics commission's decision to remove King from office, he is allowed to continue holding his seat while he appeals the school board's decision in a separate case. Clayton County Superior Court Judge Deborah Benefield has been assigned that case.

No court date, or decision, has been issued in that case.