Davis feels heat over student depositions
- Subject: Davis feels heat over student depositions
- From: Peter Farruggio <pfarr@UCLINK4.BERKELEY.EDU>
- Date: Thu, 6 Sep 2001 07:46:10 -0700
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Front page story...
Davis feels heat over student depositions
Critics say state's lawyers bully kids
Nanette Asimov, Chronicle Staff Writer
Thursday, September 6, 2001
©2001 San Francisco Chronicle
Aggressive tactics used by state-paid attorneys against California's
poorest schoolchildren are backfiring against Gov. Gray Davis, as
the teachers union and his GOP opponents all say he should rein the
Davis hired the $325-an-hour private attorneys to represent the state
in Williams vs. California, a lawsuit brought by the American Civil
in May 2000 on behalf of the state's 6.2 million public-school
students. The ACLU wants California to set minimum standards for school
vermin-free classrooms and enough books to go around, for example --
as the state has done for academic subjects.
But even as the governor touted higher test scores and more money for
schools this summer, lawyers from the large Los Angeles firm O'Melveny &
Myers were taking legal depositions from students as young as 8 years
old, asking them about classroom conditions in hard-nosed questioning usually
reserved for adults.
Some children cried, others stared numbly during four days of
questioning, while some lashed out in anger, according to interviews with
the children and
"The most upsetting thing is the lawyers going after these young kids
like they're some kind of corporate executives. I find that offensive,"
Senate President Pro Tem John Burton, a San Francisco Democrat. "It
would be better to sit down and negotiate than depose a bunch of kids and
scare the s-- out of them."
Records show the state has paid $2.5 million to the Los Angeles law
firm so far.
The students are being represented for free by the ACLU and another
heavy- hitting law firm, the Bay Area's Morrison & Foerster.
Hillary McLean, the governor's spokeswoman, defended both the law
firm's approach and Davis' record as an education advocate.
"No one thinks unclean conditions are a good thing, especially
Governor Davis," she said. "That's exactly why he has increased funding to
billions of dollars over the past three years -- to improve schools."
Depositions "are normal procedure" for plaintiffs, whether adults or
children, McLean said. She also disputed the recollection of 17-year-old Cindy
Diego, a student from South Central Los Angeles, of her deposition
about conditions at her high school.
The transcript shows that when Diego told attorney Ben Rozwood she
was tired, having gotten home at 3 a.m., Rozwood asked where she had been,
why she was out so late and whether it had been a social event. He
compared his behavior with hers, saying he had not gone out the previous
Diego told him she had been to her senior prom.
Rozwood "got upset," Diego said later. "He started yelling at me. He
made me feel bad and guilty."
LAWYER DEFENDS HIMSELF
Rozwood denied yelling, McLean said.
"The attorneys have taken great pains to treat every individual
involved in this case with professional courtesy, taking into account the
age and maturity
of the witnesses," she said.
However, the fact that Davis is fighting the suit, and that his
lawyers are trying to knock down students' testimony about unhealthy
educators the wrong way.
"He's Scrooge Davis," said Wayne Johnson, head of the California
Teachers Association, which endorsed the governor in the last election.
tries to get poor kids some semblance of what others get, and Davis
fights them like a wounded tiger. It's abominable."
Johnson said that in a long-planned meeting with Davis today, he
would raise a number of sore points for teachers, including the depositions
of up to
176 more students scheduled for this fall. The lawyers interviewed 13
students aged 8 to 17 this summer. The youngest dropped out of the case after
Meanwhile, Dan Schnur, a spokesman for Dick Riordan, a Republican
expected to challenge Davis for re-election next year, accused the governor of
"losing touch with the people he is trying to help."
Secretary of State Bill Jones, a Republican running against Davis,
said he would prefer a "team approach" to addressing the lawsuit instead of
"interrogating 11-year-old children."
But in the view of Principal Laurie McLauchlan of Chipman Middle
School in Alameda, equality is what matters.
"If you're going to set up the same accountability standards for each
school, as Davis has, then you need to make sure that each school has equal
access to credentialed teachers, and funds for texts and materials.
We don't," she said of her school. "And that's the crime."
E-mail Nanette Asimov at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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