Georgia Supreme Court to hear Randolph School Board Case

The hearing is the latest in an ongoing spat between Jenkins, who the board attempted to fire, Cook, who supported Jenkins and who sued the board to block them from moving forward with the termination.

A statement from the supreme court Thursday states:

The appeals in this locally high-profile case involve Randolph County's first black school superintendent and its first black Board of Education chair.

FACTS: Bobby Jenkins has been the superintendent since 1997; Henry Cook has been board chairman since 1994. Both have had run-ins with the other three members of the board. In April 2009, the board voted to terminate Jenkins' contract. Jenkins and Cook, whom the board also wanted to replace, then sued Don Smith and the other board members. Initially the trial court judge issued an interim injunction temporarily restraining prohibiting the board from terminating Jenkins. But on June 16, 2009, the court rescinded the order and lifted all restraining orders. The order also stated that any board member "shall have the right to include an item on the Agenda." At a June 30 school board meeting, however, board members complained that Cook and Jenkins refused to let them put items on the agenda for a vote. The board then filed a motion for contempt. Over their objections, the judge consolidated their contempt hearings.

After the hearing, where townspeople filled the courtroom, the judge found the men in contempt and ordered them to spend four days in jail. They immediately filed a notice of appeal, which the judge denied. He later rescinded after Jenkins filed a motion for emergency relief with the Georgia Supreme Court. The majority of school board members then filed a motion to have Jenkins removed after he refused to abide by their vote. The trial court granted the motion and removed Jenkins from office. Meanwhile Cook, who was involved in the 1990s in a discrimination lawsuit, had challenged a 2009 Georgia statute as unconstitutional because it changed his term from four to two years. The trial court upheld the statute as constitutional and shortly after, he too was ousted. Both men now appeal to the state Supreme Court.

ARGUMENTS: Their attorney argues the trial court made at least eight errors in each man's case, including the judge's failure to hold a hearing before issuing the June order. The trial court also was wrong to consolidate the contempt hearing over the men's objections and then hold the constitutional officers in contempt, when the only legal remedy was a "writ of mandamus" - issued to compel a government officer to perform his duties. In Cook's case, the trial court erred in concluding House Bill 563 was constitutional because it clearly singled him out retroactively. "Petitioner was the only person in the entire world who was affected by the law," his attorney writes in briefs. In Jenkins' case, the judge failed to hold a hearing on the evidence before denying him any injunctive relief while "awarding overly broad injunctive relief" to the school board members. "This ruling caused Petitioner to lose the position as superintendent which he had held since at least 1997," the attorney argues.

The school board's attorney argues the trial court has not made any errors and points out that this case remains pending in the trial court where "there has been no final ruling...on any of the issues involved in this litigation including the Appellant's prayers for permanent injunctive relief and for damages from the Appellees." Jenkins was not entitled to relief that would prevent the school board members from terminating his contract. There is no other way to remove a superintendent except as provided in the contract. Jenkins and Cook were clearly in contempt of the June order, which specifically grants all board members the right to add an item to the meeting agenda. Jenkins and Cook out of "arrogance" "wanted to continue their despotic grip upon the school system," the attorney argues. The court did not award overly broad injunctive relief to the school board. Here the evidence showed that both Jenkins and Cook refused to give up their offices after the majority had voted them out.

Attorney for Appellants (Jenkins): Maurice Luther King, Jr.

Attorney for Appellees (Smith): Franklin Coleman, III