BoE goes for ‘more aggressive’ appeal of district voting edict
The Fayette County Board of Education has opted to use a “more aggressive” Atlanta civil rights attorney for its appeal of the ongoing federal district voting lawsuit.
The board on a 3-1 vote on April 14 approved Atlanta attorney David Walbert to be the school system’s primary representative in the appeal process. Longtime school board attorney Phil Hartley will continue his service in other school board matters.
Board members Marion Key, Bob Todd and Barry Marchman voted in favor of the motion to hire Walbert. Board member Leonard Presberg was opposed. Presberg after the vote said he did not believe Walbert had been properly vetted.
Presberg — a Democratic candidate for the newly created District 5 school board post — was also the lone vote opposed to the board’s March 14 decision to appeal the recent federal court decision to require district voting in Fayette County.
Chairman Marion Key on Tuesday said Walbert’s role as the primary attorney in the appeal is due to his experience with civil rights cases. Hartley will be available to consult in the case.
“This should have been done when we decided to appeal in March,” Key said. “Since we’re appealing, we need to do it right. Walbert has more experience in this field and he will be more aggressive.”
Walbert is with Parks, Chesin and Walbert. The firm specializes in employment and civil rights cases and commercial and business law.
A mid-February decision by U.S. District Judge Timothy Batten made district voting the new law in Fayette, setting aside the long-time at-large voting format.
Under district voting, Fayette residents will no longer be able to vote for all five posts on both the board of education and the county commission. Instead, voters will be restricted to casting ballots for just one post on each group: the one corresponding with the geographic district the voter lives in.
The new map and the majority-minority 5th District are the result of a voting rights lawsuit filed by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and several individual county residents. The suit claimed at-large voting prevented black residents from electing the candidate of their choice.
The lawsuit specifically noted that no black candidate had ever been elected to the school board or the county commission.
The new district map and district voting process ordered by the court is being used for this year’s school board and county commission elections.
The school board is currently one member short, since Mary Kay Bacallao resigned in March to run for state school superintendent.