Written by John Plestina
A U.S. District Court judge has ordered Roose-velt County and the Wolf Point High School District to pay $68,793 each to the American Civil Liberties Union for court fees and costs in the settlement of the lawsuit that redistricts the board of school trustees.
It stems from a consent decree approved by a federal magistrate in April, after the ACLU filed a motion for summary judgment that mandates the Wolf Point High School District to reduce the number of school board members to six, creating five districts with nearly the same number of residents and one at-large position.
It came about as a result of a lawsuit the ACLU filed in August 2013 on grounds that voting districts used to elect trustees were apportioned in violation of one person, one vote. The ACLU argued that school district elections favored white voters in the district with a majority of Native American enrollments.
The ACLU represented plaintiffs Ronald Jackson, Ruth Jackson, Robert Manning, Patricia McGeshick, Lawrence Wetsit, Bill Whitehead and Lanette M. Clark.
The Fort Peck Tribes was not a plaintiff in the suit.
The county and school district also have to pay fees and costs associated with the defense.
The board of county commissioners voted to authorize payment of the county’s portion from the general fund.
“Where we find the money is where we’re going to take the funds out of. We’ll pay it,” commissioner Gary Macdonald said.
“That’s the sad part of it. I think it could have been solved in this office. We could have brought the school board in,” he said.
“The county superintendent [Pat Stennes] doesn’t have anything close to that in her budget,” Commission presiding officer Duane Nygaard said.
“This settlement could have funded the preschool,” he said.
“The plaintiffs never approached any individual,” Nygaard said.
He said the children in the community are the ones hurt by the lawsuit.
“That $137,587 [total owed by the county and school district] does go to the ACLU. It does not go to the plaintiffs,” Nygaard said.
Assistant County Attorney Jordan Knudsen said the funds will go into an ACLU trust fund.
He said he wanted to clarify a misconception some people have that the case was decided on the voting rights act. Rather, Knudsen said, the case was decided on the equal protection act, which is one person, one vote.