Federal Judge Batten mum on status of district voting case

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Another year is coming to an end. Another year of no resolution in the district voting lawsuit and no court date for the bench trial ordered by the Georgia 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. And no explanations from the judge in charge of the mandatory mediation process.

The lawsuit was initiated by the Fayette County branch and the Georgia state conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Defendants included the Fayette County Board of Commissioners (BOC) and the Fayette County Board of Education (BOE).

An attempt to contact Judge Batten for any update or to determine the current status of the proceedings was unsuccessful. A representative for Judge Batten’s court on Dec. 17 said the judge communicates with the public through (court) orders and had nothing else to add.

The district voting lawsuit in Fayette County has been going on for several years. It finally went to Judge Batten’s court where he ruled in favor of the NAACP, then to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals where in January the case was sent back to Batten for a bench trial.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals decision on the appeal by the BOC and BOE of a federal court decision mandating district voting in Fayette County determined the need for a trial rather than relying on the summary judgment issued previously by Judge Batten.

The trial was scheduled for Nov. 16, but was postponed by Judge Batten without a new date being set.

Batten’s order stated, “The trial of this action set for November 16, 2015, and all other scheduled deadlines, are hereby CONTINUED until further order of the Court.”

All the parties were directed to attend mediation with a court-appointed mediator.

Then on Oct. 14, Judge Batten issued an order saying, “The parties are hereby directed to mediate this case before Steven J. Kaminshine on Oct. 21. If the parties are unsuccessful in their efforts to mediate… the Court will immediately conduct and preside over a settlement conference in an attempt to resolve all issues in the case.”

Meantime, neither members of the Fayette County Commission nor the Fayette County Board of Education has uttered a word other than to say that the mediation process is underway.

“They are working on the results of the mediation,” Commission Chairman Chuck Oddo said in early November, referring to the attorneys, mediator and judge. “We are on hold now. When they are done, they will come back and tell us what to do. Something will be done, but at this point we are just waiting.”

The school board met in executive session on Oct. 19. Asked after the meeting if the school board had voted on what course to take, Chairman Marion Key said there has been no vote to settle the suit and no vote to mediate.

“The school board didn’t agree to anything. The judge did this. We were told to be there (to mediate),” Key said.

Now as of late December, that is where things stand.

The lawsuit was filed by the NAACP in August 2011.

The lawsuit claims that the current at-large voting system used for the county commission and the board of education “weakens the voting strength of minority voters, and consequently denies those voters an opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice.”