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Vergara defense team: plaintiffs failed to reach the bar

Mark Harris | February 20, 2014

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Judge Rolf Treu

Judge Rolf Treu, L.A. Superior Court

At 10:25 this morning, after they got their final documents entered into evidence, the plaintiffs in Vergara vs. California rested.

That was the signal to Susan Carson, a lawyer for the state, to inform Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu that the state and teachers’ unions would file papers later in the day, asking him to toss the lawsuit, arguing that the plaintiffs have not met their burden of proof and therefore the lawsuit should not proceed.

Marcellus McRae, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said the state’s request for a motion for judgment is a routine defense tactic. Nonetheless, the request prompted Treu to halt further proceedings until the defense submits the motion, and he has an opportunity to hear arguments from both sides.

It is the fifth time since the case was originally filed in 2012 that the defendants have moved to have the case thrown out. They have been denied each previous time.

For the last three weeks, lawyers for the nine-student plaintiffs have presented testimony from educators, experts and students along with a mountain of exhibits to prove the California teachers’ seniority, tenure and dismissal laws violate the students’ constitutional right to equality of education.

According to McRae, the plaintiffs have met their burden of proof, showing by a “preponderance of the evidence” that the challenged statutes have a real and appreciable impact on the student-plaintiffs’ constitutional rights.

Throughout the trial, the plaintiffs have maintained that the contested laws push effective teachers out of the classroom with devastating consequences for students. McRae also pointed out that plaintiffs’ evidence proves that the statutes have a disproportionate and adverse impact on low-income and minority children.

But in disputing the claims, the California Teachers Association (CTA), California Federation of Teachers (CFT) and the state say the plaintiffs’ evidence doesn’t support striking down state laws and the case should now be thrown out. Throughout the trial, it has been the defense’s position that the challenged statutes don’t infringe on students’ rights and that well managed school districts can work within the contested rules.

Jim Finberg, a lawyer for the teachers’ unions, said the plaintiffs have not met all the elements of their case. He said defense lawyers will argue that that the plaintiffs must prove that each of the nine plaintiff-students not only have suffered real and appreciable harm from the state laws and the harm was caused by the statutes. The defense contends that statutes are not at fault. The real problem rests with school districts that are poorly run.

The case is scheduled to resume on March 4, when Treu will consider arguments on the defendants’ request. The court is not in session next week.

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