Group seeks legal fees, damages from Fayette County Commission, Board of Education
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is seeking more than $850,000 in attorneys fees and costs to be paid by Fayette County taxpayers following the group’s district voting victory in federal court.
According to the motion filed Thursday, the NAACP and other plaintiffs will file a “detailed specification and itemization” supporting that figure within 30 days.
The NAACP prevailed in the lawsuit, as U.S. District Judge Timothy C. Batten threw out the county’s at-large voting system and replaced it with the district voting format which will be used in this year’s primary and general elections.
Under district voting, registered voters will be limited to voting for just one of the five posts on both the county board of education and the county commission; they may only vote on the post corresponding with the geographic area they live in.
Previously, under at-large voting, each voter was able to cast ballots for all five seats on both governing bodies, which combined spend the lion’s share of tax dollars levied on taxpayers.
The NAACP argued that the district voting process was necessary to allow black residents of Fayette County to “elect the candidate of their choice.”
In addition to ordering the voting format switch, Batten also ordered a new district map that drew a specially-created 5th district. That district is key because it is now a “majority-minority” district which has a voting-age population where just over 50 percent are black voters.
The commission and the board of education are both appealing the case to the 11th District of the U.S. Court of Appeals. In a news release, the NAACP is pressuring the county commission and board of education to drop the lawsuit, contending that their costs, added on to the county’s early legal fees, presses the legal bill beyond $1.1 million.
“The ongoing appeal process will be just as costly and will push legal costs much higher unless Fayette County leaders are convinced by irate taxpayers to drop their appeal and accept the reality that enough taxpayer dollars have been lost opposing district voting,” the NAACP said.
John Jones, president of the Fayette County NAACP, revealed that his organization attempted to settle the lawsuit with the county commission, but commission members rejected it. A settlement was brokered at one point with the board of education, but the court set it aside after learning that the commission objected to it.
The settlements would have cost the county about $10,000 in fees, Jones said.
“Instead, our county, under the misguided leadership of our currently elected board members, is now in the position of having to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees to pay their attorneys and our attorneys because they have lost,” Jones said. “Any astute business person, spending her own money and given the reality that at-large voting operates to discriminate in Fayette County, would have settled years ago for only $10,000. It is this type of decision making and wasteful spending of our taxpayer dollars which underscores our call for a change in the method of electing our county leaders.”
Jones also called for voters to toss out incumbents in favor of new officials who would “promise to put aside their own personal interests in power, unlike our current leadership, for the sake of what’s best for all members of the county.”
“We pose this question to our current county leaders: when they lose their appeal, will board members individually pay the balance that is due or will we as taxpayers continue to bear the burden of their bad decision making?” Jones said.