Trustees' lawsuit continues

Nov. 17, 2013 @ 05:01 AM

The lawsuit four Central Carolina Community College trustees filed against the state and the college — and which has since seen the Chatham County Board of Education join the defendants — continued this past week, although the judge has yet to announce any decision.

Both sides — with local attorney Jon Silverman representing the plaintiffs and one attorney each representing the three defendants — asked Superior Court Judge C. Winston Gilchrist for summary judgment, essentially a motion to have the other side's arguments thrown out so as to dispose of the case without a trial.

Both sides said a drawn-out trial would be a waste of taxpayer money to decide what they claimed should be an obvious issue. Following several hours of arguments at the Lee County Courthouse, Gilchrist asked for some time to examine each side's arguments more closely and think the case over before coming to a decision.

Neither side objected, and it's unclear when a decision might be handed down.

The four trustees — Jan Hayes, Tony Lett, Chet Mann and Chas Post — sued this summer after a local bill sponsored by Rep. Mike Stone (R-Lee/Harnett) removed them from the board of trustees and prevented them from being re-appointed in the near future. They have since been granted legal permission to remain on the board until the lawsuit has been resolved.

The state has argued that Stone's bill was simply correcting what was technically an illegal method of appointment to the board. The trustees, on the other hand, point out that more than the four of them were appointed illegally but only they — all Democrats and appointed by the Lee County Board of Education — were removed.

Stone has declined to testify. Silverman argued that Stone's bill not only blatantly targeted a single group for political retribution, it violated the state constitution.

"We want to avoid a situation in this state where each community opts out of the general framework of this state," Silverman said. "... We didn't (write) a constitution that said each county should go out and do whatever it wants to do to educate the people of this state."

But Melissa Trippe, the attorney representing the state, said the trustees don't have the proper standing to sue since the General Assembly has the power to alter the community college system.

"There is no constitutional right for these trustees to hold office," she said, also addressing their complaint about not being allowed to be re-elected immediately by saying: "Whether somebody thinks this is good policy or bad policy, it's very clear on its face — and there is no room for judicial instruction."

Silverman countered that the offices are indeed a constitutional right since the state constitution says they must exist.

"Mike Stone didn't decide how these institutions would be governed, the people did," Silverman said. "And Mike Stone and his colleagues don't get to change it arbitrarily and capriciously."

Trippe, however, argued that there was nothing arbitrary or capricious about this since it's the General Assembly's job to write laws — and members can work to correct illegal processes at whatever pace they want, even if it's done piece-by-piece. Later on, Gilchrist questioned whether such piecemeal legislation could violate due process, although he let the issue go for the time being.