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SCLC vs. Columbia County School Board
Will Justice Delayed Be Justice Denied?

Judge Andrew J. Decker, III will decide

Posted February 26, 2015  06:45 pm

COLUMBIA COUNTY/LAKE CITY, FL – Columbia County Florida is in the heart of the Deep South. Once a year it celebrates the defeat of Union forces in the Battle of Olustee. In 2015, race relations are still a confusing and contentious issue. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) Lake City President, Befaithful Coker, on February 2, 2015, asked to be put on the School Board agenda so that a resolution could be made "In Recognition of Black History Month and Alfonso Lofton," who, in 1963, graduated from Columbia County's all black high school and went on to become Florida's first black state trooper. The District refused – the SCLC sued. Black History month concludes in 3 days. (8 am hearing; Friday morning; Columbia County Courthouse)

On Friday, February 21, 2015, at approximately 1:30 pm the SCLC presented the Columbia County court clerk with an Injunction/TRO (Temporary Restraining Order) in conjunction with its earlier filed public records law suit, which among other things, asked for the court to order the School District to include Ms. Coker on the Tuesday, February 24 School Board agenda.

According to Ms. Coker's cell phone log, she said she spoke with Circuit Court Clerk P. DeWitt Cason at 2:12 pm. Ms. Coker explained that Clerk Cason told her that there were no judges in the court and Circuit Court Judge Wesley Douglas was on his way out the door.

Ms. Coker had been trying to be placed on the School Board agenda since February 2, when she submitted a completed School Board approved agenda request form along with a pro forma resolution to the District titled: Resolution in Recognition of Black History Month and Alfonso Lofton.

The resolution gave a brief history of Mr. Lofton and concluded with the following suggested language:

Be it resolved that the members of the Columbia County School District endorse and support the recognition of Alfonso Lofton as a historical figure worthy of recognition publicly during, after and before Black History Month for his contributions to Columbia County, the State of Florida and this nation.

Along with the proposed resolution, Ms. Coker included an article which detailed the life of Alfonso Lofton, which was cut short by MS.

Judges were dropping like flies

On Monday morning, February 23, Judge Douglas' Judicial Assistant, Pam Ring, told your reporter that Judge Douglas didn't leave the Courthouse at 2 pm and that the case had been assigned to Judge Paul Bryan.

Judge Bryan recused himself from the case at 4:13 pm on February 23. He stated that he had represented Ms. Coker on a personal matter.

Paragraph 9 of the Injunction stated: "Time is of the essence as to a decision on the issue of access to the elected school board meeting on February 24, 2015."

For relief, the SCLC asked that: "... the Petitioner be afforded access to the elected board members decision making authority and presence on the agenda on February 24, 2015."

The School Board meeting was the next day at 6:30 pm.

An injunction/temporary restraining order (TRO) is an accelerated motion which allows the Court to act with utmost speed to stop irreparable harm from being done to someone. Think of it as a bulldozer sitting, idling, getting ready to bull-doze your home. If the Court doesn't act to stop it, your house is gone.

The SCLC asked for relief in that Ms. Coker claimed the School Board and the Superintendent violated the law in keeping her off the agenda, making it impossible for her to present the proclamation for the Board's consideration honoring as a part of Black History Month, one of Columbia County's distinguished sons, Alfonso Lofton. Black History Month ends on Saturday, February 28.

On February 24, at 1:20 pm without any reason, Judge Wesley Douglas recused himself.

On February 24, at 2:40 pm, Court Administration assigned Columbia County's Circuit Court Judge, Leandra Johnson to preside.

The School Board meeting was now less than 4 hours away.

Judge Johnson, according to her Order of Disqualification, recused herself on the 24th, stating that she had previously represented the CCSB prior to becoming a judge. There is no time indicated when she issued the order.

There was still time to find a judge to rule on the Injunction/TRO. It was not necessary to have any of the parties present in this emergency request, as in these types of cases, a judge has the authority to rule on the submitted pleadings. Florida's electronic filing system could have delivered the documents to any judge in the Third Circuit.

The School Board Meeting: No Judicial Order

The School Board meeting went off on schedule on February 24 at 6:30 pm. Ms. Coker was not on the agenda. There was no resolution or proclamation regarding Black History Month or FHP's first black state trooper, Alfonso Lofton.

Judge Johnson's Order of Disqualification was clocked in by the Clerk's Office on February 25 at 9:24 am. The Certificate of Service states that the order was sent to the parties, Chief of the Third Circuit, Judge Parker, and Chief Court Administrator Sandra Lanier on February 24.

On February 25, 2015, Chief Judge Parker assigned Circuit Court Judge Andrew J. Decker, III, to preside in the Matter of the SCLC vs. the Columbia County School Board, et al.

Sometime after that on the 25th, Deputy Clerk Belinda Scippio sent a summons to the parties advising them to appear for an immediate hearing Friday morning at 8 am, February 27.


While the injunction has latched (expired), the court maintains much discretion.

Black History month concludes 2 days after the hearing.

If Judge Decker finds, based on the submitted pleading and the arguments, that the district violated Ms. Coker's right to appear on the agenda, he could order the CCSB to meet and hear her out.

The resolution or proclamation would be at the discretion of the school board at that time.

The other part of the law suit involves the alleged violation of the public records law. This side of the complaint was covered in the previous article.

Will justice delayed be justice denied? Tomorrow morning, The Honorable Judge Andrew J. Decker, III will decide all or part of the matter of the SCLC vs. the CCSB et al in the Columbia County Court House at 8 am.

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