Court upholds Duplin ruling
By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on November 20, 2009 1:46 PM
The North Carolina Court of Appeals upheld this week a 2008 jury finding that ordered the Duplin County Board of Commissioners to pay the Duplin County Board of Education more than $4.7 million in local funding.
The commissioners say they will carry the case to the state Supreme Court.
They voted unanimously Thursday to take their fight to the high court after discussing the issue in a 45-minute closed session.
"Obviously (we are) disappointed, but in the Beaufort County case we had to get to the Supreme Court before we won, so we're heading to the Supreme Court today," said Neil Yarborough, the lawyer representing the county in the case.
Yarborough was also the legal representative for Beaufort County in a similar case that was decided before the State Supreme Court in August.
Yarborough discussed the ruling in the closed session with the Duplin County commissioners before a public meeting Thursday morning at Duplin General Hospital, convened to discuss an unrelated issue.
Court of Appeals judges Richard Hunter, Ann Marie Calabria and Cheri Beasley heard the case in Raleigh on Oct. 1. The turnaround came more quickly than expected.
The 14-page decision, written by Ms. Beasley with Hunter and Ms. Calabria concurring, saying they disagreed with the county's arguments.
Yarborough said that the state Court of Appeals ruling was an issue of jurisdiction, not based on the argument of the case itself.
"If you read the opinion in the Duplin County case, it basically says the Supreme Court has the authority to do certain things that they didn't feel they did. The Supreme Court has spoken on the Beaufort County case and the jury instruction in this case is similar to the Beaufort County case," he said.
However, it is possible the State Supreme Court will refuse to hear the Duplin County case, Yarborough said.
"That's certainly a possibility, but we certainly hope that we will," he said.
The next step for the Board of Commissioners will be to file a petition for discretionary review and a notice of appeal, a legal process that will likely begin next month, Yarborough said.
School Board Superintendent Dr. Wiley J. Doby, who recently announced his decision not to pursue a contract renewal with the school system, declined to comment on the ruling.
"I am deferring all comments to our attorneys, Richard Schwartz and Brian Shaw in Raleigh," he said in an e-mail.
Shaw said the legal team for the school board was pleased with the court's decision.
"The Court of Appeals ruled in our favor on every issue," he noted.
Shaw was not surprised that the commissioners would continue to pursue their appeal.
"I had assumed that they would. It makes sense that they would. It will be very interesting to see whether the Supreme Court will take the case," he said.
Shaw and Schwartz also represented the Beaufort County school board, and Shaw said he hopes that if the Duplin County case goes before the Supreme Court, he will be allowed to argue it. The Supreme Court judges will take the Beaufort County ruling into account, Shaw said.
If the Supreme Court declines to hear the case, it would end the appeal process, and the county commissioners would be required to pay the school system the $4.7 million.
"The county has every right to challenge the finding. I have no doubt the county will comply with whatever the ruling is," Shaw said.