Pinellas lawsuit mediation closed to the public
Mediation in Pinellas County's 50-year-old school desegregation case will occur behind closed doors, as the public has been banned from the sessions.
The decision was made yesterday during the first session, which was held at a St. Petersburg law firm.
Roger Plata, one of the lawyers for the plaintiffs in Leon W. Bradley Jr. vs. Board of Public Instruction of Pinellas County, confirmed that mediation has been closed to the public, but said he wasn't allowed to provide any more detail. This is the third time that the two sides have gone to mediation in the long-standing case.
District officials met with Plata and co-counsel, Enrique Escarraz, for about four months of informal negotiations, as required by the so-called alternative dispute resolution in the 1964 case's settlement agreement. The meetings often were tense and progress was minimal. In December, Guy Burns, the lawyer in a separate but related case, suggested that a mediator be called in, if only to speed things along. (Burns represents Concerned Organization for Quality Education of Black Students, the plaintiffs in a state case filed in 2000 that alleges black students have been shortchanged by the school district.)
The hope was that the mediator could work on both cases at the same time.
Plata and Escarraz presented the school district with 30 allegations in the Bradley case in June, all related to the unfair treatment of black students. If formal mediation is unsuccessful, a special overseer could be appointed to make recommendations to U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday.
Mediation can proceed in public or private, with pros and cons to each approach. A closed mediation could move faster, with less grandstanding from the lawyers and a greater likelihood that the parties will speak freely. The obvious downside is that the public is locked out, making it harder to follow and hold public officials accountable.