08/12/08 — Jury trial planned for Duplin lawsuit

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Jury trial planned for Duplin lawsuit

By Steve Herring
Published in News on August 12, 2008 1:39 PM

KENANSVILLE -- Jury selection is expected to get under way Monday afternoon in Duplin County Superior Court in the Duplin County Board of Education's lawsuit against county commissioners.

Court officials said this morning that because of the case, an additional 200 potential jurors had been added to the existing jury pool of 100.

Judge Thomas D. Haigwood of Greenville will preside over the regularly scheduled session of court that should get under way about 1 p.m.

The lawsuit seeking, an unspecified amount of money, was filed last Wednesday, the day after mediation between the two boards was declared at an impasse.

The school board asked for the jury trial.

Under state law, the case will be fast-tracked, taking priority over all other business of the court.

Should the court rule against the county, commissioners could be ordered to raise property taxes to help provide more local funding for the schools.

Commissioners also could be forced to bear the costs of the action.

Meanwhile, attorneys for commissioners on Friday filed a motion to dismiss the suit based on constitutional questions as well as the doctrine of sovereign immunity -- basically that a government cannot be sued without its consent. That motion has yet to be ruled upon.

In an affidavit attached to the motion, County Manager Mike Aldridge said the school board has not considered, or taken a formal vote on whether additional appropriations by commissioners are now adequate to support a system of free public schools.

He adds that the school board never took a vote to initiate the suit.

During the mediation commissioners appropriated an additional $800,000 for the school board's current expense budget and $1,010,203 to the capital outlay budget (no local funds).

No additional motions had been filed as of this morning, court officials said.

The lawsuit contends school appropriations in the 2008-09 budget were less than requested by the school board.

The Board of Education had sought $13.2 million in local current expense funds. The county budget approved in June provided $6.9 million -- the second year in a row the schools' budget had been cut.

School board members have said the system needs $9.5 million just to stay even.

To date, the county has provided about $7.7 million in local current expense funding.