Huntsville desegregation ruling on hold - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

Huntsville desegregation ruling on hold

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Anything discussed behind closed doors during the court-appointed sessions is between the parties and the mediator. (Source: WAFF/MGN Composite) Anything discussed behind closed doors during the court-appointed sessions is between the parties and the mediator. (Source: WAFF/MGN Composite)

In Monday's ruling in the re-zoning fight between Huntsville City Schools and the Department of Justice, Judge Haikala assigned Chief Magistrate Judge John Ott to mediate between the school system and the DOJ.

Decatur attorney Greg Reeves said that typically, the mediator will split both parties into separate rooms at the same location, and go back and forth with proposals in hopes of hammering out an agreement.

Reeves said anything discussed behind those closed doors is between the parties and the mediator; it is not public information. He said even the judge won't know details of an agreement prior to a mediator submitting the final resolution to the court.

The goal, Reeves said, is for the mediator to make both sides happy with whatever the outcome is.

"Mediation is not forced," the attorney explained. "That's one of the good things about it; it is kind of like crafting a solution. You can craft a solution using surgical precision, than say taking an ax out and going to work."

Before any of this can happen, the school board and the DOJ must agree on the appointment of Judge Ott as mediator. School board member Laurie McCaulley said "time is of the essence" to get mediation started, and that the district hopes to sit down with the mediator and the DOJ within a week, but an exact date has not been specified.

Judge Haikala said in her ruling Monday that she hopes a resolution will be agreed upon by the end of the year.

Education attorney Robert Lockwood said this decision will not put a quick end to the re-zoning battle. In this instance, he added, mediation - usually a short process - may take longer.

"You are talking about a lot of complex issues that have an impact on thousands of kids and people," Lockwood said. "Usually, your mediation will be a one-day affair, but in this case I think you can expect several sessions involved in the mediation."

What if neither side comes to an agreement? Reeves said in that case, it will go back to the federal judge, and she will have to issue a ruling. Each side will be faced with the possibility of losing everything if it gets to that point.

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