— Results

Judge Hobgood issues written order declaring tenure repeal unconstitutional

Yesterday, Judge Hobgood issued an order putting into effect his prior ruling enjoining the repeal of teacher tenure in North Carolina.  The ruling rolls back the General Assembly’s attempt to retroactively eliminate public school teachers’ employment protections.   It also relieves school districts of the obligation to offer 25% of their teachers a small raise if they willingly abandon their employment protections.

In the course of litigation, the plaintiffs, represented by Patterson Harkavy attorneys Burton Craige and Narendra Ghosh, produced ample evidence demonstrating that eliminating career status makes it harder for schools to attract and retain quality teachers.  In contrast, the state was unable to produce any evidence demonstrating that career status actually prevented school districts from eliminating ineffective teachers.

Judge Hobgood ultimately determined that the repeal of career status impairs teachers’ contractual rights.  He also found that it “does not further any public purpose because the undisputed facts demonstrate that, under the Career Status Law, school administrators already have the ability to dismiss career status teachers for inadequate performance whenever necessary.  Moreover, eliminating career status hurts North Carolina public schools by making it harder for school districts to attract and retain quality teachers.”

Judge Hobgood’s detailed order can be accessed here.

 

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Victory: Tenure repeal declared unconstitutional

At 11 am this morning, Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood sided with Patterson Harkavy’s attorneys and ruled that legislation stripping teachers of their vested employment rights violated the North Carolina and the United States Constitutions.

For over forty years, North Carolina public school teachers have been able to earn “career status” after successful completion of a four-year probationary period and a favorable vote by a teacher’s school board.  A teacher with career status can only be demoted or dismissed for good cause, and has the right to a hearing in which he or she could contest a dismissal or demotion decision.  All of North Carolina’s neighboring states provide teachers a comparable system of basic employment protections.

In 2013, the North Carolina General Assembly passed legislation stripping teachers of these employment protections.  The scheme purported to replace career status with a new system, in which teachers would be employed under one-, two-, or four-year contracts.  When a school board fails to renew an experienced teacher’s contract, the new system would deny that teacher any right to a hearing challenging that decision.

Representing a group of teachers and the North Carolina Association of Educators, Patterson Harkavy’s Burton Craige and Narendra Ghosh filed suit challenging the constitutionality of the 2013 legislation.

Today, Judge Hobgood ruled that this legislation violated the United States Constitution’s Contracts Clause and the North Carolina Constitution’s Law of the Land Clause.  The State failed to produce any evidence indicating that the repeal of career status was necessary to accomplish any public purpose.  In contrast, Patterson Harkavy produced the affidavits of school administrators who consistently discussed how career status was not a barrier to removing bad teachers, but instead helped schools attract and retain good teachers despite their low salaries.

This historic victory has received news coverage around the state and the nation, including in the Raleigh News and Observer, the Charlotte Observer, and the Wall Street Journal.

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Voucher victory as Court of Appeals permits preliminary injunction to remain in place

Advocates for private school vouchers suffered another defeat today, as the North Carolina Court of Appeals left in place Judge Hobgood’s order enjoining the state’s private school voucher scheme.

The North Carolina General Assembly enacted the scheme in 2013.  If implemented, it would divert money from North Carolina’s public schools to subsidize private school students’ tuition.  Together with attorneys from the Justice Center, Patterson Harkavy attorneys Burton Craige and Narendra Ghosh represent twenty five plaintiffs who claim the scheme violates various provisions of the North Carolina Constitution.  On February 28, Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood agreed, finding that it likely violated the requirement that money allocated for public education be used “exclusively” for free public schools.  He therefore issued a preliminary injunction preventing the state from taking any steps to implement the program.

On March 18, proponents of private school vouchers asked the North Carolina Court of Appeals to delay the implementation of Judge Hobgood’s injunction until an appeal could be heard.  Today’s order denies that petition.  The favorable ruling is the first time an appellate court has addressed any issue in this litigation.

The brief order from the Court of Appeals can be found here.

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Judge Hobgood issues written order enjoining voucher scheme

Judge Hobgood issued an order yesterday afternoon putting into effect his prior ruling enjoining North Carolina’s private school voucher scheme.

Patterson Harkavy’s Burton Craige, attorney for the plaintiffs, explained, “Judge Hobgood enforced the plain language of the North Carolina Constitution.  Public funds for education must be used ‘exclusively’ for establishing and maintaining a uniform system of free public schools. Judge Hobgood recognizes that ‘exclusively’ means exclusively.”

Judge Hobgood’s order likewise found that the specific manner in which the voucher scheme was financed violated the North Carolina Constitution.  The voucher scheme would have diverted $10 million from public schools to private schools, and would have required local school districts to return already allotted public funds to the state in order to fund private school students’ tuition.

Alice Hart, lead plaintiff, commented, “The 25 plaintiffs are gratified by today’s decision. It would have been a terrible mistake to divert public funds to private schools when we urgently need to devote our attention to all of our children in our public schools, raise the pay for our teachers and provide more resources to our classrooms.”

The order prevents the State from taking any further steps to implement the program, stating that “Defendants are ENJOINED until further order of this Court from implementing the challenged legislation, including the acceptance of additional voucher applications, the processing of voucher applications, the selection of voucher recipients, and the expenditure or disbursement of any public funds in furtherance of the challenged legislation.”

Click here for the full text of Judge Hobgood’s opinion.  Click here for an article by the North Carolina Association of Educators further discussing the order.

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Judge Hobgood rules in favor of Patterson Harkavy’s clients, halting private school voucher scheme

At a hearing today in downtown Raleigh, Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood enjoined the State from implementing its private school voucher scheme.  If not for Judge Hobgood’s landmark ruling the scheme would have taken millions of dollars from North Carolina’s public schools in order to pay private school students’ tuition.  Private schools receiving taxpayer funds would not have been required to meet any educational standards, would not have been subject to any public accountability, and would not have been prohibited from discriminating against students on the basis of disability, gender, or religion.

Patterson Harkavy attorneys Burton Craige and Narendra Ghosh, working with attorneys from the North Carolina Justice Center and the North Carolina Association of Educators, represent the case’s 25 plaintiffs.  They have alleged that the voucher scheme violates various provisions of the North Carolina Constitution.  The State School Board Association, together with more than half of North Carolina’s local school boards, is also challenging the constitutionality of the scheme.

Burton and Narendra have argued that the Voucher Legislation provides taxpayer funds for public education to private schools, in violation of Article IX, Section 6 of the North Carolina Constitution, which requires that those funds be “used exclusively for establishing and maintaining a uniform system of free public schools.”   Plaintiffs also claim that providing taxpayer funds to private schools with no standards or accountability does not accomplish a public purpose, in violation of Article V, section 2.

On Monday, Judge Hobgood denied the State’s motion to dismiss the plaintiffs’ claims.  Today, in issuing his injunction, Judge Hobgood found that that the plaintiffs were likely to succeed on the merits and that they would suffer irreparable harm if the State was permitted to continue implementing the program.

Burton’s arguments from Monday’s hearing can be found here; his arguments from today’s hearing can be found here.  The historic victory has been covered by news outlets across the state, including the Raleigh News & Observer, the Greensboro News & Record, the Charlotte Observer.

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Recent Wrongful Conviction Settlements Total Over $12,000,000

Patterson Harkavy attorneys Burton Craige and Narendra Ghosh, with co-counsel Spencer Parris and Chris Olson, recently obtained settlements totaling more than $12,000,000 for two men who were imprisoned for crimes they did not commit.

In 1992, Greg Taylor was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.  After Taylor served 17 years in prison, his lawyers found SBI lab notes contradicting the official SBI lab report that blood linked Taylor to the victim.  Presented with the new evidence in 2009, the North Carolina Innocence Commission exonerated Taylor and ordered his release.

Representing Greg Taylor, Burton and Narendra filed a civil rights suit against Duane Deaver, who wrote the misleading lab report in Taylor’s case, and four other SBI officials. The Defendants were represented by seven lawyers from the Attorney General’s Office.  The litigation confirmed that the SBI had a long-standing practice of producing reports that omitted the negative results of confirmatory serology testing.  The failure to disclose this exculpatory evidence violated Taylor’s constitutional rights and resulted in his conviction. After three years of litigation, the case settled in September 2013 for $4,625,000.

For more information about the case, see the complaint, Burton Craige’s presentation at mediation, and newspaper coverage of the settlement.

In 1989 Dwayne Dail, age 20, was convicted of the rape of a 12-year old girl in Goldsboro, and sentenced to life imprisonment.  The conviction was based on the victim’s misidentification of the rapist.  DNA testing became available in the mid-1990s.  In 1995, Dail’s family members raised the necessary funds and requested that the crime scene evidence be subjected to DNA testing. The City Attorney and the Goldsboro Police Department (GPD) told them – inaccurately — that all the evidence had been destroyed.  On multiple occasions over the next 12 years, family members and staff from the North Carolina Center for Actual Innocence (NCCAI) repeated the request for the evidence.  Each time they were told that all the evidence had been destroyed.  In 2007, Chris Mumma and Sharon Stellato from NCCAI made one final request to the GPD.  An employee found an envelope containing evidence from the case, including the victim’s nightgown.  DNA testing of semen on the nightgown matched William Neal, currently in prison for other crimes.  Dail was exonerated and released after 18 years in prison.

Representing Dwayne Dail, Burton and Narendra filed suit against the City of Goldsboro, including claims for civil rights violations, negligence and obstruction of justice. The case presented complex, novel issues of constitutional law, reflected in Judge Terence Boyle’s order denying the City’s motion to dismiss.  After extensive discovery, Judge Boyle ruled that Dail had produced evidence sufficient to support his claims.  After three years of litigation, including three mediated settlement conferences, the case settled in November 2013 for $7,520,000.  For more information about the case, see the complaint, Burton Craige’s presentation at mediation, and news coverage of the settlement.

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Win for Burton and Narendra: Court of Appeals Affirms Dismissal of District Attorney Tracey Cline

The North Carolina Court of Appeals has affirmed a trial court order removing Durham District Attorney Tracey Cline from her office.  In re Cline, __ N.C. App. ___, 749 S.E.2d 91 (2013).  Patterson Harkavy attorney Burton Craige acted as court appointed counsel responding to Cline’s appeal of her dismissal.

The controversy has its roots in late 2011, when Cline began making numerous false and outrageous accusations against Durham Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson, Jr. in public pleadings.  Cline’s behavior lead attorney Kerstin Sutton to petition for Cline’s removal under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7A-66, which establishes a number of grounds on which a district attorney can be removed from office.  Sutton was appointed to present evidence against Cline at a hearing before Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood.  On March 2, 2012, Judge Hobgood found that Cline had engaged in conduct “prejudicial to the administration of justice which brings the office into disrepute” under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7A-66(6), and removed her from office.  Cline appealed.

The court appointed Burton Craige to manage the response to Cline’s appeal.  Burton worked with Sutton and Patterson Harkavy attorney Narendra Ghosh to defend Judge Hobgood’s removal order.  On October 1, a unanimous panel of the North Carolina Court of Appeals published an opinion affirming Judge Hobgood’s order removing Cline from her office.

The News and Observer has engaged in extensive coverage of the controversy, including an investigative series entitled “Twisted Truth: a Prosecutor Under Attack.”  More recent articles explore Burton’s role as court appointed independent counsel and discuss Monday’s Court of Appeals decision.

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Burton and Narendra Secure Court of Appeals Win in Medical Malpractice Discovery Dispute

In Hammond v. Saini, __ N.C. App. ___, 748 S.E.2d 585 (2013), the Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Patterson Harkavy’s client, Plaintiff Judy Hammond.  Ms. Hammond suffered severe injuries from an operating room fire while undergoing surgery to remove a possible basal cell carcinoma from her face.  In her subsequent medical malpractice suit, the Defendants refused to produce certain documents addressing the fire and notes made by the hospital’s risk manager following the fire.  The trial court rejected the Defendants’ argument that these items were privileged and granted Ms. Hammond’s motion to compel discovery.  Burton Craige and Narendra Ghosh represented Ms. Hammond on Defendants’ appeal of that decision.

On September 3, a Court of Appeals panel published a unanimous opinion in favor of Ms. Hammond, affirming the order compelling production of the Defendants’ reports, and remanding the issue of whether the risk manager’s notes were protected by the Work Product Doctrine to the trial court.  For more information, read Burton and Narendra’s brief to the Court of Appeals.

 

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Rawls Prevails in Court of Appeals in Workers’ Compensation Case

The North Carolina Court of Appeals ruled in favor of one of the firm’s clients in an appeal brought by the defendants.  In Rawls v. Yellow Roadway Corporation, the Full Commission awarded Veran Rawls ongoing total disability compensation since his 2005 truck accident.  Defendants argued that the Full Commission had erred in several findings of fact, claiming that they were not based on competent medical evidence.  The Court rejected all of these arguments and affirmed in full the Commission’s decision.  Hank Patterson and Narendra Ghosh represented Mr. Rawls in the appeal.

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NC COA Examines Public Duty Doctrine

The North Carolina Court of Appeals reversed the decision of the North Carolina Industrial Commission in Ray v. NC Department of Transportation.  The case involved the death of a motorist and her passengers in 2002 when an eroded section of pavement caused her vehicle to go off the roadway, she corrected, and hit an oncoming car head on.  The plaintiff alleged that that NC DOT was negligent in maintaining the roadway and not repairing the eroded section which they knew was dangerous or should have known was a dangerous to motorists.  The Commission dismissed the case based on the public duty doctrine which can be used as a defense by the State of North Carolina from certain tort claims.  Reversing, the Court of Appeals concluded:

“ This case does not involve a failure to inspect or to police, but a failure to repair a defective section of roadway. There is no “hazard created by others” or important discretionary decision which requires the government to be protected under the public duty doctrine.”

Burton Craige wrote an amicus brief on behalf of the North Carolina Advocates for Justice for this case.  The brief can be accessed here.

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