11/24/15 School board votes to join lawsuit

School board votes to join lawsuit
Case involves funds from improper equipment fines
By Isaac Groves, The Times-News 11/24/15  
Reprinted with permission.      

   The Alamance-Burlington Board of Education voted unanimously to join a lawsuit against the state Monday going after $46 million in improper equipment fines.

   The board met in closed session for about 10 minutes in a special meeting Monday morning. Board attorney Adam Mitchell joined the meeting by phone, board members said. The board voted unanimously to join the suit filed by Raleigh law firm Tharrington Smith, which also represents the Alamance-Burlington Board of Education.

   After the meeting, board member Steve Van Pelt said the board heard from its attorney that several other school districts in western North Carolina were suing through another firm.

   Thirty-four state school districts filed the original suit Nov. 5 for the $50 court fines levied against drivers convicted of operating vehicles with “improper equipment.”

   A 2011 law gives that money to a statewide misdemeanor confinement fund, which supports keeping misdemeanor offenders in county jails rather than state prison. The districts participating in the suit contend the state constitution gives penalties, forfeitures and fines for “any breach of the penal laws of the state” to the counties to maintain public schools.

   In September the N.C. Court of Appeals agreed in a ruling in favor of the Richmond County Board of Education in its suit claiming a right to these fines. That suit applied only to that school district, but it opened the door to more legal action.

   According to the suit, the state has collected more than $46 million. More than $140,000 was collected in Alamance County.

   The Guilford County Board of Education voted Thursday to join the suit, according to a media release. Guilford County Schools stand to recover $1.6 million.