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JCPS, Parents Make Final Arguments to Kentucky’s Highest Court

The debate over whether students have the right to attend their neighborhood schools may soon be decided by the Kentucky Supreme Court.

The high court heard arguments Wednesday morning on whether the word “attendance” was deliberately removed from state law (KRS 159.070) in 1990. The state Court of Appeals ruled last year that the law does allow students to attend the school where they enroll, which in JCPS is the neighborhood school.

The JCPS board argued removal of the word “attendance” allows students to be bused around the district for its diversity plan.

But a group of parents opposing this argument said that the words enroll and attend should be considered synonymous.

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Kentucky Supreme Court Hears JCPS Student Assignment Arguments

The Kentucky Supreme Court will hear arguments this Wednesday in Frankfort on a case that could force Jefferson County Public Schools to change its student assignment plan.

An appellate court ruled against JCPS last year, saying Kentucky students have the right to attend the same school where they enroll, or their neighborhood school. But JCPS argues state statute allows the district to transport students to meet certain diversity goals.

If the high court upholds the previous court’s ruling, JCPS may have to redesign its student assignment plan, which the district has already done once this year.

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State Supreme Court Decides to Hear JCPS Student Assignment Case

The Kentucky Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case regarding Jefferson County Public Schools’ student assignment plan next Spring.

An appellate court ruled earlier this year that students may attend the school closest to their homes. That doesn’t happen in JCPS, where many students travel outside their neighborhoods under the district’s diversity plan.

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JCPS Delays High School Student Assignment and Appeals to Kentucky Supreme Court

The Jefferson County Board of Education will appeal an appellate court ruling that allows students to attend their neighborhood school. As a result of the court’s decision, the board also voted at Monday’s meeting to delay implementation of new boundaries and assignments for high school students next year.

Delaying the JCPS high school assignment plan prevents changes the district may have to make later, said board member Linda Duncan.

“The difficulty now is if we would proceed with the adjustments for the high school boundaries and the court ruling went against us we would be implementing those new boundaries and having to grandfather those kids,” said Duncan. “We would be still grandfathering the present plan and then on top of it we would be redesigning our system to return to neighborhood schools,” she said.

The board’s vote was unanimous and is the second time it has decided to delay its high school student assignment plan. New middle school boundaries and assignments began this year.

The district continues to search for ways to build diversity in it schools. JCPS has been tied up in court since 2007 when the U.S. Supreme Court decided the district needed to create a student assignment plan without using race as the sole indicator for a school’s makeup. JCPS changed its plan and now uses race as one of three factors to determine where students go to school. Several JCPS parents then filed suit arguing that language in state law says students have the right to attend the same school where they enroll, which is their local neighborhood school.

“For us what it would result in is a re-segregation of our schools as well as an ending to our magnet programs,” said Duncan.

Specialty programs, like magnet schools, may be protected against the new law, according to language in the Court of Appeals’ opinion. But it would create problems for the district, such as transporting thousands of students who may be grandfathered in to certain schools.

If the Kentucky Supreme Court decides to hear the case, it could take over a year before a decision is reached, which would delay JCPS having to comply with the appellates court decision.

Attorney Teddy Gordon, who represents the parents on the suit filed against JCPS, wrote in a statement his disappointment that JCPS continues to spend money on litigation.

JCPS attorney Byron Leet was unable to say how much money the district has spent for cases before both the Circuit Court and the Court of Appeals.

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Louisville Slugger Loses Appeal in Montana Case

An appeal by Louisville Slugger to the Supreme Court of Montana was unanimously rejected Thursday.  The appeal was filed in response to a 2006 judgment.

In 2003, 18-year-old pitcher Brandon Patch died after a baseball hit him in the face. The ball was struck by an aluminum bat made by Louisville Slugger.

The boy’s family sued the bat manufacturer, claiming that the company did not adequately warn of the dangers associated with the bat.

In 2006, a Montana jury awarded the boy’s family $850,000.  The company’s appeal asked for a new trial citing improper procedures and maintained among other things that Patch assumed the risk by playing the game.

However, Supreme Court justices in Montana rejected all of the company’s arguments saying it failed to show the boy was aware of the risks.  Officials with Louisville Slugger did not return a request for comment.

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Local News Politics

Supreme Court Ruling Further Equates Spending to Speech

A recent U.S. Supreme Court decision may not affect Kentucky laws, but it will affect voters.

The court struck down an Arizona law that essentially gave publicly-funded candidates more money to match successful privately-funded opponents. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell praised the ruling, saying the law punished successful candidates.

University of Louisville Professor Sam Marcosson says the ruling has upset many free speech advocates, who do not see political spending as a protected form of speech. Last year’s Citizens United ruling shows that the court’s conservative majority does see spending as speech in many cases.

“And the same justices voted the same way,” says Marcosson. “All the justices who voted to strike down the limits in Citizens United voted to strike down this Arizona law. All of the justices who dissented in Citizens United dissented.”

If Congress disagrees with the high court, counteracting the rulings will be difficult.

“For congress to do anything effective, it seems to me, what they’d almost have to do is pass a constitutional amendment allowing the regulation of the use of money by corporations [such] as Citizens United or to allow limits on contributions or the use of money by candidates themselves in their won self-financing of elections,” says Marcosson.

Opponents of the ruling are celebrating the fact that the court did not move to strike down public funding of campaigns in general.

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Supreme Court Rules for Kentucky Man, With Caveat

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a Kentucky man facing a nearly nine-year prison sentence for crack cocaine charges is eligible to have his sentence reduced.

William Freeman agreed to the sentence in a plea deal, which was based on the sentencing guidelines for crack. When those guidelines changed, Freeman tried to have his sentence shortened, but was told he had to follow his plea deal.

A majority five justices ruled in Freeman’s favor. Four of those five said anyone who takes a plea deal should be eligible for a shorter sentence if guidelines change. But the fifth was Justice Sonia Sotomayor. She ruled that only convicts whose plea deals state they are based on sentencing guidelines should be eligible.

“The case really does position Justice Sotomayor, at least in criminal matters, as part of the court’s center,” says U of L Professor Sam Marcosson. “Both the government and defense lawyers will have to think carefully about how to appeal to her and make careful arguments.

Marcosson says Sotomayor’s opinion significantly reduces the scope of the high court’s decision. Rather than affecting potentially thousands of prisoners, it will likely affect hundreds.

Freeman may again request a shorter sentence. If he does, the case will be heard at the federal courthouse in Louisville.

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Retroactive Fair Sentencing Act Enforcement Likely Won’t Affect Kentucky Case

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is pushing for criminals serving jail time or possession of crack cocaine to have their sentences reduced, but his efforts are unlikely to affect one of the most famous local cases involving crack cocaine.

Holder’s recommendation is related to the Fair Sentencing Act. Previously, possession of the more expensive powder form of cocaine carried a lighter penalty than possession of crack. Holder argues that anyone sentenced under the harsher guidelines should have the chance to serve less time.

The Supreme Court recently heard a case out of Kentucky involving many of the same issues. It was brought by William Freeman, who took a plea deal for crack possession and was unable to have his sentence shortened under the Fair Sentencing Act.

But the nature of Freeman’s case sets it apart from Holder’s recommendation, since Freeman has been previously ordered to serve out the sentence negotiated in his plea deal. Further, Freeman was in possession of a loaded firearm, and Holder’s recommendation does not apply to certain convicts, including those serving time on gun charges.

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Supreme Court Ruling on Kentucky Case Could Give Police More Power in Warrantless Searches

The Supreme Court’s ruling in a case out of Kentucky could give law enforcement officers more power to enter homes without warrants.

The case came from Lexington, where law enforcement officers burst into Hollis King’s home after smelling marijuana and having reason to believe he was destroying evidence. The police, however, were not looking for King. They were chasing another suspect who had ducked into a different apartment.

Police don’t need a warrant to enter a residence if there are exigent circumstances, such as someone destroying evidence. But King argued that the circumstances were created by the police. He only tried to dispose of the drugs, he said, because officers were mistakenly pounding on his door.

The Kentucky Supreme Court previously threw out the evidence against King. But in an 8-1 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the decision. Justice Samuel Alito wrote that King did not have to answer the door or let the police in, therefore, his decision to destroy evidence rather than exercise his rights is not protected. The sole dissenter, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said the ruling gives police too much power to enter homes without the proper warrants.

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Local News Politics

Kentucky Supreme Court to Wait to Hear Instant Racing Arguments

The Kentucky Supreme Court will wait to hear a case testing the legality of Instant Racing.

In December, Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate ruled the state can regulate Instant Racing, or electronic wagering on previously-run horse races.

The Family Foundation, which opposes expansion of gambling in Kentucky, appealed the decision directly to the state Supreme Court.

But the high court, which is refusing direct transfer, wants the case heard first by the state Court of Appeals.

Kentucky’s eight horse tracks hope to use proceeds from Instant Racing to boost race day purses.