by Dr. Robert Luebke
Senior Fellow, Center for Effective Education, John Locke Foundation
Today Judge Michael Robinson held his first substantive hearing as the presiding judge in the long-running Leandro school funding case.
Robinson has a steep learning curve. The North Carolina Supreme Court gave him 30 days to decide what impact if any passage of the state budget would have on last fall’s order by Judge David Lee to force the state to move $1.75 billion in funds to comply with the agreed-upon Comprehensive Remedial Plan (CRP). The clock is ticking.
Today’s hearing was lengthy – 4 hours. It also provided court watchers some insight into how Judge Robinson thinks and how he might decide the case. Robinson is a Special Superior Court Judge for Complex Business Cases. Not surprisingly, Robinson has an interest in the math of the case. He asked more than a few questions about how various numbers were derived and how entities were paid. More than once, the Judge made various attorneys uncomfortable or unable to answer one of his questions with certainty.
Judge Robinson may have won points with moderates and conservatives when he asked Melanie Black Dubis, lead counsel for the plaintiffs; what role the legislature had in developing the CRP? The lack of a substantive answer from Dubis and her uneasiness were telling.
Robinson was clearly engaged. His pointed questions spoke to his legal acumen (Are reserve funds unappropriated funds?) Robinson’s questioning contrasted sharply with his predecessor, Judge Lee, who was often deferential to counsel and representatives of WestEd, the consulting group who helped to draft the Comprehensive Remedial Plan (CRP).
How will Judge Robinson rule? Who knows? Questions often give an indication of a judge’s line of reasoning, and there were probing questions for both sides. Robinson will have much to think about, but not much time to decide. His decision about the state budget’s impact on Judge Lee’s order is due at the North Carolina Supreme Court next Wednesday.