It's a tedious walk from their respective downtown law firms they could probably do in their sleep by now. But, veteran attorneys, Tom Cates and Leo Bearman, are quite aware that when they are summoned by federal judge Samuel Hardy Mays for a status conference, in regards to the city county school merger lawsuit, it's in their clients' best interests to show up. Even if they have no idea what's on the judge's mind.
"We'll just have to see. I have no idea what his honor's going to do and don't know what's gonna happen until he does it," claimed Bearman, who represents the Shelby County Commission.
But, after just one hour, behind closed doors, Mays had made his discontent known. It wasn't with the actions of the attorneys in the case, it was his growing concern over whether the Unified School Board was on track to complete the merger of city and county systems by the court-mandated July 1st deadline. Mays indicated to the attorneys he's going to appoint a Special Master to, more or less, light a fire under the perceived foot-dragging USB.
"He's gonna put an order down asking for our input. We will file responses to that by Wednesday. Then he'll take that under consideration to determine who he wants to be the court's eyes and ears about why this isn't happening," explained Memphis City Council Attorney Alan Wade.
Cates, the attorney for the suburbs said, Well, if you've got a target date of July 1, you better start doing something. You gotta decide who's gonna be teaching? Who's gonna be providing maintenance? Who's driving the buses? All of those issues and times getting short."
"They've created this problem themselves by not making these decisions. So, you know it's a lack of leadership," declared Shelby County Commission Chairman Mike Ritz. "The Master, I think, will encourage the school board to start making some decisions."
While Mays' criticism of the school board's progress brought out a brief show of commonality among the lawsuit's adversaries, the judge apparently shed little light on how he plans to proceed down the judicial road that still lies ahead in the protracted lawsuit. Right now, Nashville's renewed involvement in the school merger is a distant blip on his radar screen.
"Whatever the State does is not going to impact 2013. The kids have to go to school in 2013. So, whatever the State does, the State does," said Wade.
As for Mays leading the parties back to the mediation table after talks broke down earlier this year? Well, remember the aforementioned "brief show of commonality?"
"I would never say never. But, with the conditions the county has been insisting upon, I think it'd be fruitless," said Cates.
Just as unfulfilling as making a tedious walk from a cozy downtown law firm with nothing to show for it.