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Leandro: There’s a new judge in the case, and other updates

Since the state Supreme Court affirmed a lower court order forcing the state to appropriate money to fund the Leandro comprehensive plan, a lot has happened.

A majority Democrat Supreme Court slate changed over to Republican hands following last November’s election. Filings laid out how much money the plaintiffs and defendants think the state still owes on years two and three of a comprehensive plan aimed at making sure the state’s children are properly educated. And a new judge has been assigned to the case.

Here is what you need to know.

New judge

On Nov. 30, Judge Michael Robinson, the most recent judge to take over the case, sent a letter to Chief Supreme Court Justice Paul Newby asking to be removed.

“Given my workload and the demands of my docket as a Business Court Judge, it will be difficult to maintain oversight and jurisdiction over this case without the reassignment of some of my cases to my Business Court colleagues, each of whom already has a full docket and heavy workload,” Robinson wrote.

You can see his request below.

Late in December, Newby accepted Robinson’s request and appointed Superior Court Judge James Ammons to the case.

Ammons has a long history in Cumberland County, where he has been a defense lawyer, assistant district attorney, district court and then superior court judge, according to a post from him on the Facebook page Friends of Judge Jim Ammons for Superior Court. Another post stated that he had been a superior court judge since 1998.

You can see the order appointing Ammons below.

Timeline

After the Supreme Court’s order on Nov. 30, it remanded the case back to the lower court so that Robinson could ascertain how much remaining money was needed to fund for years two and three in the remedial comprehensive plan. He needed to take into account the most recent short session budget passed by the General Assembly before ruling on the matter.

On Dec. 12, attorneys representing the plaintiffs and the defendants in the case agreed to a timeline for moving forward. Both the defendants and plaintiffs in the case are on the same side, though General Assembly leaders have intervened and served as the opposition.

Here is the timeline laid out in the filing:

  • “That, on or before 19 December 2022, Defendant State of North Carolina shall file with the Court an accounting showing the recalculations, if any, of the amount of funds to be transferred in light of the State’s 2022 Budget.
  • “That, on or before 20 January 2023, Plaintiff Parties and any other party shall respond.”

You can see that document below:

The document also stated that State Controller Nels Roseland opposed the timeline. According to the document, the controller said “additional procedures are needed to assure an accurate and responsible handling of any money which the Controller authorizes.” Additionally, it states that the controller thought it was “premature” to determine scheduling.

On Dec. 19, an affidavit from Anca Elena Grozav, chief deputy director of state budget for the state Office of State Budget and Management, stated that about $257 million in year two and $420 million in year three remained to be funded on the comprehensive plan. According to her affidavit, that means 63% of year two and 60% of year three have been funded by the General Assembly through their budgets.

Below is a chart that shows the breakout of funding by department.

See that affidavit below.

So far, no new hearing has been scheduled in the Leandro case.

To see the most recent filings in the case, go to the NC Business Court website here. Scroll down to the bottom of the page and click on Public Access – Business Court Dockets. From there, enter the case number under “search selected view.” The number is 95CVS1158. Click on “dockets” on the right side of the screen.

For more history of the case, go here.

Alex Granados

Alex Granados is senior reporter for EducationNC.