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Notes from the education and court beats

By By Suzanne Monk / managing editor
June 8, 2003
In September, schools in Mississippi will receive individual performance ratings for the first time as opposed to the old system that awarded a combined score for an entire school district.
The problem with the old system was that scores for poor-performing schools could be swallowed up in the overall average.
The new system appealed to me. Parents could review how their child's school stacked up against other schools in the district and see how well their tax dollars were being spent.
Sounds great.
But, after a recent editorial board interview with a spokesman for the Mississippi Department of Education, I think we may have simply bought a new set of problems.
Why? Because the scores for individual schools will be only partially determined by objective testing standards. The other part of the equation is how much the students have improved.
Making "improvement" part of individual school ratings is based on the idea that never getting any credit for doing better makes people feel bad. Makes students, teachers, parents and communities feel bad. Discourages businesses from locating in your community.
Under the new standards, it will be possible for a school whose students never test at their appropriate grade level to be deemed "successful" as long as the students made a one-year improvement since the last time they were tested.
Objectivity seems to have been de-emphasized in favor of everyone feeling good about themselves. I think I'd rather have the truth.
Quick takes
Hit-and-run lawsuit?: The plaintiffs in a $470 million lawsuit against Waynesboro attorney J. Keith Shelton and three other law firms have voluntarily dismissed their complaint. Mississippi law allows a plaintiff to drop his lawsuit without penalty at any point before the defendant answers the allegations.
The people who filed the lawsuit in Wayne County Chancery Court were represented by Fayette attorney Kevin Muhammad. Their breach of contract complaint asserted they had been hired to drum up clients for lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies but weren't paid.
Langston, Sweet &Freese of Jackson was one of the firms named in the suit. Partner Dennis Sweet said the dismissal is par for the course.
In an interview this week, he said Muhammad has filed seven or eight lawsuits against his firm, each time dismissing the complaint just in time only to re-file it in a new jurisdiction.
Sweet denied the allegations in this lawsuit, and the others like it, and said he plans to fight the dismissal in Wayne County: "Why doesn't the man let me go to court on something?"
J. Keith Shelton: In an unrelated matter, the Mississippi Bar Association has asked the Mississippi Supreme Court to disbar Shelton from practicing law. Shelton was indicted in 1997 for attempting to bribe a Hinds County judge.
He entered a petition to enter a "best interest" plea in December 2002. A defendant filing a "best interest" petition with the court states his willingness to enter a plea of guilty but does not, in fact, admit guilt.
Rather, the defendant asserts his innocence while acknowledging that the state would probably win at trial. It reflects the defendant's wish to enter into plea negotiations instead of facing a jury.
The Mississippi Bar Association's request to the Supreme Court came in January. While the court has not yet accepted Shelton's plea petition, it is the Bar's position that the mere tendering of the plea is sufficient cause to disbar him.
Meridian attorney Greg Snowden represents Shelton on the disbarment question. Snowden asked the high court last month to either dismiss the Bar's complaint or convene a tribunal to look into the allegations.
Vandalism: The court date for eight young men indicted in November after a vandalism spree at three high school campuses has been rescheduled again. The defendants were indicted for burglary and destroying public property. The new court date is Aug. 11.
Civil Service Commission: A settlement has been reached in an appeal filed by Capt. Rick McCary of the Meridian Police Department. McCary was officer Don Morgan's supervisor when Morgan was found disoriented in his patrol car.
A subsequent search of Morgan's home in Clarke County turned up illegal drugs. He was arrested, fired and later indicted and sentenced on drug charges.
McCary had been suspended for one day without pay because Chief Benny DuBose felt he should have recognized that Morgan had a problem and taken action. McCary appealed the suspension to the Civil Service Commission, and was represented in the negotiations by Meridian attorney Bill Ready Sr.
City attorney Lee Thaggard told the commission at a meeting this week that the two sides had agreed to reduce the disciplinary action against McCary to a letter of reprimand.
Comcast update: The re-trial of C.D. "Bubba" Newell, set to begin Monday in U.S. District Court, has been rescheduled again. The new trial date is Sept. 8.

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