Judges Grill Lawyers on Desegregation NAACP Says Duval Schools Need to Do More for Racial Equity

Article excerpt

Byline: Walter C. Jones, Times-Union staff writer

ATLANTA -- Appeals judges considering whether the Duval County School Board has desegregated its schools had plenty of questions during oral arguments yesterday.

A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals asked so many questions of lawyers for both sides that arguments lasted 20 minutes beyond the allotted half-hour.

At issue in the 40-year-old case is whether a federal district judge erred in 1999 when he ruled that the public schools are being run without racial discrimination to the maximum extent possible and no longer need to be under court oversight. The Jacksonville branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People appealed the ruling.

A ruling from the 11th Circuit is not expected for months.

Attorneys from the two sides said the number of questions showed how complicated the issue is.

"I didn't feel a sense that they were leaning one way or another," said Michael Sussman, a New York attorney who has represented the NAACP in the case since 1985. "I have argued more than 150 appeals, and I thought they were asking questions to get information."

Sussman told the court the School Board had not "taken maximum steps" to assure the racial balance of every school. He argued that a 1992 agreement between the board and the NAACP required the system to be more aggressive about assigning students to schools to achieve balance.

Patricia Brannan, a Washington attorney representing the School Board, countered by saying the agreement amounted only to goals for integration, not guarantees, and that it required the board to take only steps that were practicable, not everything recommended by the NAACP. …