The Wake school board's lawyer, Ann Majestic, is widely considered to be the expert on school law in North Carolina and, in her quiet way, excellent at her craft. The new board majority agrees and is keeping her on. Nonetheless, they want a second lawyer of their own—Tom Farr.
Why? The stated reason, in a resolution that was on the agenda for debate as the Indy went to press Tuesday, is to audit the $1.8 million Wake schools spend annually on legal fees and liability insurance and to look for savings. Also, Farr would offer "general advice and counseling on litigation, policy and personnel matters" that may arise.
John Tedesco has helpfully noted that the new board may be hit with a civil rights suit (the state NAACP has threatened one) if it tosses out diversity as part of its school assignment process and goes to a neighborhood-schools system. Some have noted that the "personnel matters" could include replacing some top school officials should they resist the majority's will.
Farr, a partner in the Raleigh office of Ogletree Deakins, a giant law firm, specializes in employment law, according to his bio on its Web site.
But he has a sideline specialty in legislative apportionment and voting rights cases—redistricting, that is—on the Republican side.
Farr was lead counsel for some of the plaintiffs in Shaw v. Hunt, the 1990s case that landed North Carolina's gerrymandered congressional districts before the U.S. Supreme Court. A decade later, Farr represented the plaintiffs who overthrew a state legislative districting scheme in the N.C. Supreme Court.
Drawing up districts, and defending them against challenges of racial bias under the federal Voting Rights Act, would be right up his alley.
Perhaps Farr will also assist the school board majority in drawing up school assignment zones (districts) so they withstand, as much as possible, an NAACP lawsuit?
We e-mailed that question to Farr. His answer:
"Thanks for your note. I regularly read the Indy and enjoy reading all the reviews and the articles. Very informative and regularly creative and interesting. I was trained to practice law by some very good and ethical lawyers. I was taught that it is not mannerly to discuss a client's business with the press. Again, thanks for contacting me."
Well, sure. But as soon as the school board starts paying him with public funds, we are his client.
Come to think of it, there's another potential use for Farr's legal skills on the school board. After the 2010 census, someone will have to redraw the board's election districts, which are also subject to the Voting Rights Act. Boards themselves usually do this, unless the composition of the board itself changes—more members, for example, or some members elected at-large—in which case an act of the General Assembly is required.
Just thinking ahead.