Original URL: http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/0814schoolsuit14.html

Legislature asked to give $1 million to fight lawsuit
School finance system at issue
The Arizona Republic
Aug. 14, 2003
Chip Scutari
 12:00 AM

The Attorney General's
Office wants the
Legislature to hand over
nearly $1 million to fight a
lawsuit that could force the
state to pump hundreds of
millions of dollars into
preschool programs for
impoverished children.

That's in addition to the
$500,000 the state has
already spent on legal fees in the case, even though the lawsuit on behalf
of five school districts doesn't go to trial until March.

The Attorney General's Office said the $930,000 covers a worst-case
scenario if the case makes it all the way to the Arizona Supreme Court.

The attorney general is facing a formidable foe, Tim Hogan, who brought
Arizona to its knees over school construction financing. Hogan, executive
director for the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest, said the legal
costs "baffle him."

"I just don't get it," Hogan said. "I don't understand why we don't spend
more time and effort to fix this problem instead of seeing how many
lawyers we can hire."

Arizona Schools Chief Tom Horne said the state needs the money
because the lawsuit could cost $1.2 billion and "force a horrendous tax

"When you consider what's at stake, this money is totally justified," Horne

"If judges are going to be legislators, they should make $25,000 a year."

When told of Horne's estimate of $1.2 billion, Hogan said: "That's silly. It
sounds like he's pulling numbers out of thin air."

Hogan said he didn't know how much the lawsuit would seek from the
state, but others close to the case say it could reach $200 million.

The state originally hired the Atlanta law firm of Sutherland, Asbill &
Brennan, which charged $450 an hour, more than double the hourly rate
that most Arizona law firms charge public clients. That rate was eventually

The firm has since been replaced by Mariscal Weeks and Lewis & Roca,
Gov. Janet Napolitano's and Horne's former firm.

The defense team now includes five private attorneys and one lawyer from
the Attorney General's Office.

The $930,000 request will be made behind closed doors at today's
meeting of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee. Hogan said the use of
the executive session is "fishy."

"If all they're doing is asking for more money, that does not justify a special
session under the Opening Meetings Law," Hogan said. "What about this
do they not want the public to hear?"

The suit seeks a court declaration saying Arizona's school-finance system
is unconstitutional because it does not provide "general and uniform"
opportunities for all students.

A previous suit filed by Hogan and the center during the 1990s led to
Students FIRST, a program responsible for more than $1 billion in repairs
and renovations to bring neglected schools up to statewide standards.

The latest suit aims to do for students what the previous one did for school

It estimates there are 200,000 students in Arizona who are "at risk" for
academic failure because of their low family income.