U.S. District Judge Samuel Mays stopped a 2-day trial about the creation of municipal school districts in Shelby County over a dispute related to data presented by a witness.
Judge Mays set a date of Sept. 20 to reconvene the trial, which will determine whether an Aug. 2 vote to form separate public school districts in six Shelby County municipalities is legal under the Tennessee Constitution.
The constitutionality of the state law that allowed for the vote has been challenged in court by the Shelby County Commission and the city of Memphis.
Mays called for the delay Wednesday after lawyers for both the city and county objected to population data and a map presented by a witness who had not been qualified as an expert.
After an spirited debate with the first witness of the day, federal court has been at a stand still since the lunch recess.
The main witness of the day was the suburbs - a mapmaker and GIS professional that works for the legislature in Nashville. She was presenting maps of populations in Gibson County, but every time the suburbs attorney began a line of questioning, he was interrupted by an objection from the county and city attorneys.
Their position was they could not vouch for the authenticity of the maps. There were more than two hours of objections, and debates.
What the suburbs attorney was trying to show is there is a set of circumstances in Gibson County where the municipal school laws could apply, therefore making them constitutional.
Amidst the continuing battle over if municipal schools are legal, Commissioner Terry Roland said illegal activity is brewing among the attorneys.
Commissioner Roland said the firm representing them in the school merger and municipal schools battle is creating more legal action to take against the municipal schools - such as filing a subpoena for web commenters' identities to a recent letter requesting the municipal schools vote be left off November's ballot - in order to generate their company more money.
"All they were supposed to do was look into the two schools merging. Now it's grown into all this what's being presented now of keeping the municipals from voting on this and not counting their vote," said Roland, who wrote a letter to U.S. Attorney Edward Stanton to investigate what he calls a conspiracy by the county's attorneys.
He says a meeting between the lawyers, County Commission Chairman Sidney Chism and an unnamed county commissioner sparked a letter to the Shelby County Election Commission. The letter from Chism addresses them, requesting the vote for municipal schools be taken off the November ballot.
Roland says it is part of a plan by attorney Lori Patterson with Baker Donelson.
"What happened was staff scanned it in, put the chairman's seal and stuff on it and sent it. Clearly it's got her initials and the case number on it," Roland said.
He also says the wrong Tennessee Attorney General Opinion was cited in the letter.
The letter from Chism requests the municipal schools vote be removed from November's ballot because "State law limits the maximum number of school districts in any County to six (6), including the County Board of Education. See Tenn. Attorney General Opinion 12-72." Opinion 12-72 deals with tax payments on a gas system in a charter county, not a limit to the number of school districts as mentioned.
"When she found out she made the mistake, she called and jumped on our people here that work here for us for sending it and not catching it, and it clearly was on her," Commissioner Roland said.
FOX13 did reach out to Patterson for her reaction about the allegations; she declined to comment.
"What they're doing is they thought that the municipalities would sue the county, therefore, it would give Baker Donelson more business by defending Shelby County," Roland said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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