June 5, 2009
JACKSON -- The state Supreme Court decided Thursday not to rule on rebuffed attorneys'' claims that the Columbus school board schemed to rehire its longtime legal counsel in an unlawful secret meeting five years ago.
The nine justices said they lacked jurisdiction and had to dismiss the appeal filed by the Colom Law Firm and associate attorney Monique Brooks Montgomery.
A chancery judge last year turned down the Columbus attorneys'' request to nullify the meeting in which the school board extended the contract with David Dunn. He''s been the board''s lawyer for 20 years.
In appealing the judge''s decision, Montgomery and the law firm headed by Wil Colom asked the Supreme Court to rule the chancery judge erred.
However, since the allegations of an illegal school board meeting and other issues were still unresolved in Lowndes County Chancery Court, the justices said court rules prevent them from making a judgment on whether the meeting should be nullified.
"Therefore, the trial court''s ruling as to whether the meeting could be declared void does not properly fall within the purview of (court rules). Because this court does not have appellate jurisdiction, the appeal must be dismissed," Supreme Court Justice Jess Dickinson wrote.
The Colom Law Firm and Montgomery wanted to be hired as the Columbus Municipal School District''s attorneys. They alleged the school board met in 2004 without notifying the public to extend for another year its contract with Dunn and his law firm, Dunn & Hemphill. State law requires government boards to give the public advanced notice of when they''re meeting.
In suing the school board and its legal counsel in Lowndes County Chancery Court, Colom and Montgomery asked Chancellor Jon Barnwell to nullify the contract and order the board to follow the state''s open meetings law.
Colom and Montgomery sought to open up the board''s hiring process to other attorneys. After the lawsuit was filed, the school board in a public-notified meeting reaffirmed its hiring of Dunn.
Barnwell is a chancery judge from Leflore County and was assigned to hear the lawsuit to ensure it had an impartial judge with no conflicts of interest. One of Lowndes County''s three chancery judges is Dorothy Colom, Wil''s wife.
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