Judge to hear notice motion in class action against OPSB

Alejandro de los Rios Jul. 10, 2010, 4:32am


Judge Ethel Julien will hear a notice motion in a five-year-old class action suit against the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) on July 16 in Orleans Parish Civil District Court.

New Orleans principal Eddy Oliver, teacher's aide Oscarlene Nixon and OPSB custodian Mildred Goodwin lead the class of 7,500 current and former OPSB employees who claim they were wrongfully terminated after most of New Orleans' public schools were flooded during hurricane Katrina.

New Orleans attorneys Willie Zanders, Suzette Bagneris, Clarence Roby, Anthony Irpino, Roderick Alvendia, Juana Lombard, Charles Samuel, and Walter Willard are representing the class.

New Orleans attorneys William Aaron Jr. and Renee Smith are representing the OPSB.

The State of Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), the State Department of Education and the Recovery School District (RSD) were added as defendants in the suit after the state took over 100 schools in Orleans Parish in the wake of Katrina.

Baton Rouge attorneys Michael Rubin, Brent Hicks, Jon Giblin and Assistant Attorney General Angelique Freel are representing the State agencies.

On March 30, Zanders filed a motion to approve short form notice, long form notice, opt-out form and manner of publication of notice/opt-out asking Judge Julien to approve for class counsel to send notice to 5,000 class members about the trial and to place an ad in New Orleans-area newspapers to notify the remaining 2,500 class members.

In a joint opposition against the plaintiff's motion, the defendants argued that the notice motion is "defective in both its dissemination plan and its substance," noting that it "makes no effort to identify missing class members or update their existing addresses."

Defense counsel pointed to the difficulty in locating many class members since many have relocated permanently since Katrina and that the plaintiff's notice may not reach many potential class members that no longer live in the New Orleans area.

This case was originally filed as an injunctive relief for Oliver, Nixon and Goodwin, in which they claimed that the OPSB's proposed plan to turn several of its schools into quasi-charter schools would "end public schools in New Orleans."

The initial request, which essentially asked that teachers that were hired by the OPSB be retained in schools that were taken over by the RSD, was denied. But in a September 2007 ruling, Julien acknowledged other causes of action including wrongful termination and breach of contract. In December 2008, Julien certified the class as "all current or former employees of the OPSB prior to Hurricane Katrina." The class includes principals, teachers, paraprofessionals, central office administrators, secretaries, social works, food service, maintenance and other service workers that had been hired by the OPSB.

Julien's ruling was appealed to the Louisiana Fourth District Court of Appeals. In November 2009, Judge Edwin Lombard, Judge Terri Love and Judge Paul Bonin affirmed the class certification.

The case was appealed to the Louisiana Supreme Court, which voted not to block the case on March 5.

Orleans Parish Case 2005-12244.

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