By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Then there’s the experience of Clive Aden, a sophomore at Fremont High in Los Angeles. “From the beginning of July until the end of August there were no books in my chemistry class,” he said in his declaration. “When we went back on track in October, we finally got a class set of books . . . We don’t have books to take home. I need a book to study from at home and in school because I want to go to college and I want to study science and become a doctor.”
Books weren’t the only difficulty: “When I started my chemistry class, the classroom had about 50 students in it. It was very overcrowded. Then they split up the class into two separate chemistry classes . . . The second chemistry class, my class, did not have a permanent chemistry teacher. For about the first month and a half of the school year we had a new substitute almost every other day . . . Out of all the substitutes, we had only two substitutes who gave us an assignment. One teacher taught us poetry instead of chemistry.”
For its part, L.A. Unified, in court papers, characterized allegations of widespread textbook shortages as false, exaggerated or “corrected.” “We have worked fervently to address some of the concerns raised in the initial filings,” said spokesperson Stephanie Brady.
Three private law firms as well as in-house attorneys have handled the case for L.A. Unified. Its legal fees are almost certainly more than $1 million. Meanwhile, the state has spent upwards of $18 million, most of that going to O’Melveny, according to published reports.
“One of the reasons this case has lasted so long is a real shocking attitude on the part of the Davis administration,” said Eliasberg, “that it’s better to spend millions of dollars hiring a large corporate law firm — that engages in scorched-earth legal tactics — than it is to spend that money trying to address problems that everyone knows are real.”
That sentiment was oddly echoed by Assemblyman Fabian Núñez (D-Los Angeles) who opposed the recall but disliked Davis’ reaction to legislation on school bathrooms. “Davis came in and said, ‘You can’t say that districts must maintain clean bathrooms as a first priority because of the ACLU lawsuit. You’re validating their lawsuit.’ I’m thinking, ‘Who gives a shit?’ Keep the bathrooms clean at schools. It’s very simple.” In the end, Núñez watered down the bill to avoid Davis’ veto, and it’s unclear what effect his legislation will have.
Davis did veto a related bill by state Senator John Vasconcellos (D-San Jose). It would have collected data on school conditions to gauge students’ opportunity to learn. The veto arrived five days after Davis’ recall. “A perfect epitaph for the so-called education governor,” said Eliasberg.
The entire matterwill be an early test for Schwarzenegger, who criticized Davis’ record, but could pick up right where Davis left off.
“We are encouraged by the ruling,” said Schwarzenegger spokeswoman Karen Hanretty, “and we hope that gives the parties the opportunity to once again resolve this case.” It’s hard to see support for the ACLU position in that terse comment. For what it’s worth, a senior O’Melveny partner, Charles Diamond, is part of Schwarzenegger’s transition team. Diamond was among a handful of O’Melveny attorneys who provided counsel to recall initiator Ted Costa. Diamond and the other attorneys have acted on their own, without the firm’s involvement, said O’Melveny’s Virjee. In addition, Schwarzenegger’s incoming secretary of legal affairs is a former top deputy of the state attorney general, whose office also has opposed the ACLU suit.
Still, there’s some indication of backdoor contacts between the new administration and the advocates. Eliasberg sees a potential opening both with the new governor and his education secretary, former Los Angeles mayor Richard Riordan. “The Davis attitude was just, ‘Let’s test all the kids, and that will make them better,’” said Eliasberg, “while Schwarzenegger the candidate actually talked about the lawsuit during the debate. And Riordan says his primary mission in life is to make sure poor kids are educated properly.”