5:30 a.m. | Sep. 12, 2014
A would-be alliance in the battle over New York’s teacher-tenure laws fell apart Thursday, as parent-activist Mona Davids held a press conference to attack CNN anchor-turned-education reformer Campbell Brown.
The drama between Davids and Brown, who are each suing to invalidate the state’s tenure laws, threatens to delegitimize their shared legal argument which has, at least on its face, a chance of succeeding considering the positive result for anti-tenure reformers in the Vergara vs. California case earlier this summer.
State Supreme Court Justice Philip Minardo on Thursday ordered Davids and Brown to consolidate their lawsuits, meaning the two will be represented by the same firm and will have to work together.
The number of legal players involved in the case and Davids’ dramatic pre-hearing press conference outside Richmond County Court on Staten Island turned what was supposed to be a mundane legal proceeding Thursday into an unexpectedly dramatic bit of political theater.
Davids, head of a group called the New York City Parents Union, accuses Brown of trying to steal the spotlight and divert resources away from her case.
“Campbell Brown is is trying to reform her image and make herself relevant on the backs of black and Hispanic children, our children. This is our lawsuit,” Davids said at a press conference where members of her group held up fake $100 bills with Brown’s screaming face in the middle and signs that read “Campbell Brown does not speak for NYC parents.”
Davids claims Brown discouraged Gibson Dunn, the prestigious law firm that helped secure victory for the plaintiffs in Vergara vs. California, from helping Davids’ case. Gibson Dunn said in early August it would be providing legal support to Davids’ case, then abruptly dropped out several weeks ago, citing conflicts of interest.
Davids claims Brown, whose own group is called the Partnership for Educational Justice, asked lawyers at Gibson Dunn to drop their support for Davids’ group and cited unpublished emails between Brown and lawyers at the firm.
Davids also claims Brown began “a bullying campaign” against her.
Brown’s representatives say Brown was only offering support to Davids and Gibson Dunn’s recusal from the case has nothing to do with her.
In a statement, Brown said, “Gibson Dunn is a legal powerhouse and we welcome their involvement. Our view has always been that more parents, lawyers and families supporting this effort, the better.”
Keoni Wright, a plaintiff in Brown’s case, called Davids’ allegations “disgusting and ludicrous,” in a statement sent by a spokesman for Brown.
Davids filed her own lawsuit in early July; Brown, tearfully, filed a few weeks later.
Other actors in the complicated narrative include legal representatives of the office of the city’s corporation counsel, the United Federation of Teachers, New York State United Teachers, Kirkland & Ellis (the law firm representing Brown’s lawsuit), Gibson Dunn and state Attorney General Eric Scheniderman, who all filed individual requests during the brief logistical hearing.
Schneiderman filed a motion to have the cases consolidated in August; since the two lawsuits are challenging the same legal tenets. Neither side, despite their apparent personal acrimony, opposed the consolidation.
The U.F.T. also filed a motion to intervene in the case on behalf of the city and state. Minardo also granted that motion on Thursday, meaning the union will officially serve as a defendant against the plaintiffs.
Charles Moerdler, a partner at the law firm Stroock & Stroock & Lavan, who is representing the U.F.T., said the union will seek to have the case dismissed.
Davids and Brown will be able to submit two separate complaints, Minardo said, but will have to act as a single plaintiff.
Minardo also told Gibson Dunn to file a formal motion asking to leave the case; Davids said she will most likely oppose the motion to show that she wants to retain legal help from the firm.
Moerdler indicated that formal legal proceedings are unlikely to begin until December, at the earliest.