By Curt Yeomans
Clayton County Board of Education Member Michael King said on Thursday that he may seek a new, four-year term on the school board later this year, in an attempt to continue a legal battle that has consumed much of his current term.
On Jan. 25, Clayton County Superior Court Judge Deborah Benefield dismissed the petition for judicial review that King filed last spring. King was appealing the school board's March 2009 decision to uphold a ruling by the board's ethics commission that said King should be removed from office because of a conflict of interest issue.
King has filed a notice with Clayton County Superior Court that he is appealing Benefield's ruling to the Supreme Court of Georgia. On Thursday, he said he expects the appeals process to continue until some point in 2011.
The embattled school board member said he believes the state's higher courts would drop his case if he leaves office on Dec. 31, when his current term ends -- with appeals still pending. "I may run for re-election to maintain standing [in the courts], and to give my constituents an opportunity to vote on me," King said. "If I'm no longer on the board, then, I think they [either the Court of Appeals of the State of Georgia, or the Supreme Court of Georgia] would say the issue is moot, and drop my case."
King's statement that he may seek re-election contradicts a statement he made last August, when he said he planned to leave office after his current term expired in December of this year. "I don't plan on running for re-election," he told the Clayton News Daily on Aug. 7, 2009. "I've done what I said I was going to do [work on restoring accreditation of Clayton schools]."
At the heart of King's ongoing legal battle is an attempt to hold onto the school board District 4 seat that he won in a special election in August 2008. A month after he took office, it was revealed that King was representing a former Mt. Zion High School teacher in a federal lawsuit against Clayton County Public Schools, and the Clayton County Board of Education.
Effectively, he was suing himself (as a member of the school board).
At the time, former School System General Counsel Julie Lewis alleged that King had not notified district officials that he was representing the former teacher when he took office. The board initially censured King for his involvement in the case in the fall of 2008, but School Board Chairperson Alieka Anderson also filed a complaint with the ethics commission.
Last February, the commission decided that King should be removed from office. King filed a petition for declaratory judgment, arguing that the state law (2008's House Bill 1302) that created the school board's ethics code, and the ethics commission, were unconstitutional.
King is arguing that the Georgia Constitution does not allow special laws that conflict with existing, general laws. He also argues that the state already has a general ethics law that does not prohibit a school board member from representing a client in a lawsuit against the school board, on which he or she sits.
Clayton County Superior Court Judge Geronda Carter dismissed that case last June.
Meanwhile, the school board voted in favor of upholding the ethics commission's decision a few months earlier, in March 2009, prompting King to file a petition for judicial review. In that petition, King made the same constitutional argument that he was making in the declaratory judgment case.
The judicial review case was assigned to Benefield, whom King unsuccessfully tried to have removed from the case. In August of last year, attorneys for the school board filed the "motion to dismiss" that was finally granted by Benefield on Jan. 25.
King said Benefield dismissed the case on a technicality. He said he was not surprised, and has been planning to take his case to a higher court for awhile. "I did not anticipate her ruling in my favor," he said. "She said I should have filed a writ of certiorari to appeal my case, of which I totally disagree. Section 4, Subsection K of House Bill 1302 provides for review of the decision by appeal."
King said he is filing a direct appeal, and "to make sure I cover myself," is also filing a discretionary appeal of Benefield's decision, with the Supreme Court of Georgia.
King earlier filed an appeal of Carter's decision, and is waiting to hear if the state's highest court will hear that case.
Board Chairperson Anderson declined to comment on Benefield's ruling on Thursday, saying she needed to discuss the matter with her attorneys.