Judge trying unique case with rezoning hearings - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

Judge trying unique case with rezoning hearings

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Legal experts expect to see Judge Haikala's opinion in the coming weeks or months. Legal experts expect to see Judge Haikala's opinion in the coming weeks or months.

We're taking a closer look at the federal judge in the middle of the fight over Huntsville's school zoning plan.

Last week, Judge Madeline Haikala listened to two days of testimony. She'll issue an opinion in favor of either Huntsville City Schools or the United States Justice Department.

Judge Haikala visited multiple Huntsville schools, in some cases unannounced, before the hearing. Greg Reeves, a local attorney, said desegregation and rezoning cases are unique in the court system.

Reeves said the judge's decision to visit the school system might surprise some, but not him. The judge is expected to take a very close look at racial makeup of each school, majority and minority transfers, and travel concerns before making her decision.

"You'll find the judge may have community input," he said. "The judge may want to hear from a variety of people, people that have a stake in it, the community, citizens, and educators. It is a different type case."

Judge Haikala has been on the bench for about a year. Reeves said a lot of people are closely watching the case and how long the judge handles it.

"It's not like what we see so often, just a contract claim," said Reeves. "Here, there are so many moving parts. It's a tough call and there's so many people who have a vital stake."

At the conclusion of last week's hearing, Judge Haikala asked for citizens to share their thoughts about the district's rezoning plan and if it created enough diversity. More than a dozen people voiced their opinions.

Huntsville City Schools' attorney has filed a motion to exclude those statements. Reeves said the motion shouldn't come as a surprise because the citizens who made those statements were not sworn in under oath to testify.

"It probably operates more as a reminder to the judge: 'Hey, judge, there's certain things to consider and certain things you're not. For example, somebody get up there at a public hearing and spout off a bunch of opinions totally unsubstantiated,'" explained Reeves.

Legal experts expect to see Judge Haikala's opinion in the coming weeks or months. 

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