Federal Judge Madeline Haikala will hear arguments next week regarding whether Gardendale will be forced to pay approximately $1.3 million dollars in legal fees for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and private plaintiffs in the city’s failed school system bid.
Haikala, the judge on the original case, ruled that the city could form its own school system, breaking away from the Jefferson County Board of Education. However, in that ruling, Haikala stated that she believed the school separation bid was motivated by racism and a desire to keep black students from North Smithfield out of Gardendale schools. A federal appeals court struck down Haikala’a ruling, saying if the decision was racially motivated, the school system could not be allowed.
After the appeals ruling, Gardendale officials said they would not appeal the decision to a higher court and would work with the county toward improving the schools in the city. County officials have since announced plans to add to or renovate buildings within the city and redraw lines to alleviate overcrowding at Gardendale Elementary School.
Now, U.W. Clemon, who represented the private plaintiffs in the case and the LDF want Gardendale to pay for the legal expenses incurred during their campaign to block the new school system.
Gardendale had spent more than $1.7 million on its own attorneys as of March 2018.
The money for those legal fees came from a 10 mil tax placed on property owners in the city for the formation of the city school system.
Haikala has also ordered that all parties involved in the case must read Under Our Skin, written by NFL player Benjamin Watson and be ready to discuss the book at the hearing on July 17. The book deals with themes of racial inequality and discrimination.
Haikala’s order applies to all the lawyers, members of the county and city school boards who testified during the trial and others close to the case.
She said she hopes the reading material will “help the parties examine the issue.”
Gardendale has always denied that the school bid was about racial issues and instead claimed they wanted better local control over the schools in the community.
Haikala oversees the Stouts vs. Jefferson County Board of Education case which aims at desegregation of the school system. Federal judges have overseen all decisions related to the desegregation order since the early 70s and federal oversight will only end when it is determined the system has reach “unitary status.”