Leandro’s former case judge says he’s not asking to be removed from the case ::

– Superior Court Judge W. David Lee did not request to be removed from oversight of the Leandro case and learned of his replacement on Tuesday along with the rest of the world, Lee told WRAL News in an interview on Wednesday.

Lee, a registered Democrat, chaired the so-called “Leandro” educational sponsorship lawsuit since 2016.

His elimination from the incident has raised questions and doubts about political motives from those who advocate a quick resolution to case of Leandro 28 years old.

On his orders, North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul Newby, a Republican, gave no reason to replace Lee with a new judge, Michael Robinson, also a Republican registration.

Newby can replace judges on his own without the rest of the state Supreme Court and without providing reasons.

Letha Muhammad, executive director of the Educational Justice Coalition and an advocate with Every Child NC. “We already know that Republican lawmakers were very upset about Judge Lee’s order.”

“It’s like a political heck,” said Muhammad.

On Wednesday, a Newby spokesman said Lee’s removal was because he had reached mandatory retirement age. Judges can continue to supervise cases after they reach 72 if they receive emergency magistrate status. Lee has been an emergency judge since before that, since 2016.

He told WRAL News he has been overseeing three cases so far this week. He has been removed from overseeing the Leandro case, uncertain of his role in the second case, and has received a special mandate from Newby to be a retired recall judge to continue. third case supervision.

Lee will be replaced in the Leandro case by Robinson, a business court judge. Newby appointed Robinson late Monday, around the same time the Democratic Supreme Court decided to issue the latest appeal in the Leandro case.

That call has the ability to determine the level quickly a plan approved by the court to solve the Leandro case can be done, if any. That plan calls for at least $5.6 billion in new spending on education annually — an increase of more than 50% — and numerous policy changes.

Muhammad said that settlement was key after nearly 30 years of court fighting.

“How long are we going to keep failing the kids of North Carolina?” Muhammad said.

Republican lawmakers were skeptical of the court-approved plan and disagreed with the view that the General Assembly must implement it. It was the only comprehensive plan suggested.

‘Starred on someone’s calendar’

Lee is an emergency judge in North Carolina, overseeing a series of cases since 2016.

Lee applied to be an emergency judge in 2016 after he retired. He received approval from the Government at that time. Pat McCrory and was promptly assigned cases by Chief Justice Mark Martin, including the Leandro case.

But his role is changing now.

Lee turns 72 years old on January 23, a Sunday. On Monday, he received a call informing that his role would be reviewed. That call came from David Hoke, the Supreme Court’s assistant director of court administration, who has worked with Lee on his duties since he became an emergency judge.

Lee, although retired, reached the mandatory retirement age for a superior court judge in North Carolina on January 23.

“I definitely got the impression from that phone call that I wouldn’t be dealing with other issues at Leandro, but I’m not sure why or what the good reason is,” Lee said. “But it’s clearly just a matter for the judge to decide and he has followed through on his decision.”

Lee told him he never thought turning 72 would matter, because he was already an emergency judge. Usually, when judges reach the age of 72, they must get a state of emergency or some other permission to continue hearing cases.

But after receiving a call the day after his birthday, Lee noticed a coincidence, “which makes me think maybe my birthday might have been starred on someone’s calendar, that’s okay.”

Lee told WRAL News he had wanted to make progress on the case when he took over it, finding that no firm plans had been made in the 12 years since the state’s Supreme Court found out. in favor of the plaintiff, that the child of North Carolina. are not provided with a “good basic education.”

Lee’s tenure indicates significant movement in the case, although Lee expects the case to continue for many more years.

He intends to participate for as long as he can but on Wednesday said he serves at the Chief Justice’s discretion and respects that authority.

Former State Supreme Court Justice Bob Orr told WRAL News he hasn’t heard of any judge being dropped from a case simply because he’s 72 years old.

However, the fact that Lee’s age became an issue didn’t necessarily surprise Orr.

Northwest High School, 2nd grade, Leandro 1 project 2022

“Everybody… knows that he is rapidly approaching mandatory retirement age and is still involved in this particular 2.1 case and will arrange to move that case he will not,” Orr said. Case “2.1” refers to a court rule that allows emergency judges to preside over a case.

Orr said: “A case as complex and complex as Leandro should have a transition period in which the judges discuss the issues of the case and ask a new judge to resolve it quickly. It’s a common practice, he said, and it may not be publicly advertised before a transfer becomes official.

Lee said he did not know Robinson would take over the case and had not discussed it with him.

“I would hesitate to call him,” Lee said. “I don’t want to monitor something that I’m not there to monitor. So I’ll leave it at that and trust the Chief Justice to do what he thinks is the right thing to do. Now, but not just now, but over the course of the case, and and we’ll see what happens. ”

What happens next?

The appeal before the state Supreme Court concerns Lee’s November order to divert more than $1.7 billion from unapproved general funds into the state education treasury. That money will cover funds for the first three years of an eight-year plan — often referred to as a “Leandro plan” — to overhaul the state’s education system.

A panel of the Court of Appeals blocked the order in late November, and the parties to the case appealed that decision to the state Supreme Court. That is the scope of the Supreme Court’s consideration.

But first, the Supreme Court determined that the superior court needed to review the order under the new state budget and asked the superior court to make any findings or amendments to the order that it requested. found suitable.

Because a new judge is overseeing the case, Lee will not review his own order. Robinson is. That means by the time the Supreme Court receives the appeal, it will likely decide on the constitutionality of an amended order, rather than Lee’s. A finding in favor of Lee’s command could pave the way for funding the remainder of Plan Leandro. A finding against would be a setback for the plaintiffs.

Lee himself ordered the parties to be reconvened to discuss the impact of the new state budget on the Leandro Plan but vacated it after the Court of Appeals blocked his transfer of funds.

Robinson will hold his first meeting on the case at 2 p.m. Thursday. This was a conference call to develop a schedule for meetings and further argue regarding the review of Lee’s order and the new state budget.

WRAL Investigative Correspondent and Retired Documentary Producer Cristin contributed to this report.

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