Douglas County school voucher hearings wrap up

Judge expected to submit order within days

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Closing arguments in the case challenging the Douglas County School District’s voucher program ended three days of hearings that could halt the program in its infancy.

A standing-room-only crowd listened in Denver District Court while a legal team from the American Civil Liberties Union faced off against a team that included the Colorado Attorney General’s Office to decide the fate of the district’s school choice scholarship program.

Both sides agreed that any decision from Denver District Court Judge Michael Martinez will likely face an appeal, regardless of the ruling.

“There will be an appeal either way,” said Michael McCarthy, a plaintiff attorney representing the Taxpayers for Public Education. “What (the school district has) done is press the envelope as far as they can. For those interested in preserving public education in this state, they have got in their face as far as they can.”

McCarthy delivered his statements before a standing-room-only crowd at the hearings that began with an order from Martinez which raised the bar for the plaintiff’s burden of proof. Martinez on the first day of the hearings ordered the preliminary injunction be elevated to a mandatory injunction, precluding the need for any further consideration in his courtroom.

Minutes before closing arguments began, Martinez addressed a memo from the plaintiffs, asking him to reconsider his decision.

“My concern is that this situation needs a resolution as soon as possible for you and your clients and (defense attorneys) and their clients,” Martinez said. “I know this court is just a bump in the road to appellate court. There wasn’t anything in the subsequent evidentiary hearings that I wasn’t going to hear in this case; only more of it.”

Both sides of the case agreed Martinez’s decision will impact more than 270 Douglas County School District students who have received choice scholarship money for the 2011-2012 school year. Defense attorneys presented witnesses and evidence to support their position that a reversal of the program would create undue hardship for the schools and families that are counting on the scholarship money.

“The plaintiffs waited over three months (to file a lawsuit),” said Jim Lyons, representing the school district. “If they had filed in a timely fashion we would be standing here in a different argument.”

Plaintiff attorneys argued that until the school district accelerated its payment plan to commence soon after plaintiffs filed an injunction, there was no program to reverse. The school district “manipulated the status quo” to get the payments in motion, McCarthy said.

“They will keep pressing that envelope unless you stop it,” McCarthy said. “They will keep growing this program unless you stop it.”

Martinez promised a decision within a week of the Aug. 4 closing arguments.