DISD District 8 School Board Election: Who Let the Big Dogs Out? (UPDATED)

UPDATE, 11:45 A.M.: Manuel G. Berrelez, one of Miguel Solis' lawyers, just called to tell me that Kristi Lara has withdrawn her lawsuit. The original post follows:

Yesterday afternoon we told you the big lawsuit over residency requirements for a Dallas school board candidate got kicked up to a higher court and will not proceed until after the election next Tuesday. If you saw that item at the end of the day, you may have thought, "Wait, how can something about an off-year special school board election be a BIG lawsuit?"

See also: DISD District 8 Residency Lawsuit Kaput Until After Election

Yeah, exactly. In fact, it's kind of amazing. But Tuesday's special election to fill an empty seat on the school board is to school reform in Dallas what the Kansas Conflict was to the Civil War -- a bitter and bloody preview of bad things to come.

Right now with one member missing (Adam Medrano left last May to join the City Council), the board is split 4-4 on firing the superintendent, Mike Miles, thereby ending his campaign of school reform which involves sacking a lot of teachers and principals. One candidate for the District 8 seat, Miguel Solis, is a former special assistant to Miles and considered a safe vote for keeping him. The other, Kristi Lara, is closely associated with the teachers unions that want Miles fired and is considered a safe vote for such a sacking.

Of course both of them are saying on the campaign trail they still have open minds about it. Yeah, right, like I have an open mind about whether I would accept the money if I won the lottery. But all of this is why somebody let the big dogs out.

The lawyer representing Lara in her suit against Solis for allegedly not living in the district is none other than Lisa Blue, the Democratic Party moneybags whom D Magazine describes as an "irrepressible widow," as if that were her problem. Blue recently took the Fifth in the infamous Al Hill III case, the one in which a Dallas judge found that Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins had brought phony criminal charges against a rich Dallas couple as a favor to Blue, who was squeezing the couple for legal fees.

She's wired. Having Blue show up against you in a lawsuit like this one is like having a bear show up at your campsite -- great story later but you have to live to tell it. But don't feel too sorry for Solis. His lead lawyer is Jeronimo Valdez, a chairman of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and a member of the Dallas Citizens Council, joined by Manuel G. Berrelez of Vinson & Elkins, only one of the nation's most powerful law firms for goodness sake. So Solis has two wolves to Lara's one bear.

I put calls in yesterday to both Blue and Lara to ask them how such high-dollar lawyers ever got involved in a lousy little residency lawsuit, but neither one called me back. I called Solis and his lawyers. They did call back. Of course they had just drubbed Blue in court, getting the suit knocked back until after the election, so maybe it's understandable they were the ones feeling chatty. Solis said his lawyers are working for free.

Valdez told me the so-called lousy little lawsuit over Solis's residency was never about residency. He and Solis both pointed out that as soon as the suit was filed Solis presented all the rent receipts, phone records, affidavits and other stuff he needed to prove he lived in the right district. None of that satisfied Blue, they said, whose efforts in court seemed aimed more at getting the judge to let her grill Mike Miles under oath about his relationship with Solis.

Ultimately, Valdez said, the lawsuit is an effort by some big anti-reform moneybags to bluff Solis out of the race, get Miles fired and then make the school district pay their legal fees.

"The true goal of this lawsuit was to make sure that they had control over the board of trustees in such a way that they could possibly have gotten rid of Mike Miles," Valdez said. "They wanted to knock out Solis. It had nothing to do with anything other than that they perceived he was pro Mike Miles."

Solis said, "Look, I have met all the legal requirements for residency. To me, this is a desperate attempt by a campaign that hasn't been able to get the real work done out in the field. They're trying to distract the voters of District 8."

I have always been very pro-Miles in this space, but I also liked and was impressed by Lara when I met her. I guess I can see this one both ways. Lara has a right to go out on the campaign trail and say, "Don't vote for Solis. He's pro-Miles." Solis has the same privilege. "Don't vote for Lara. She's anti-Miles."

But isn't that a campaign issue? A voter issue? How does it become grounds for a lawsuit with Lisa Blue the big bad gnawer of bones trying to depose the superintendent and then make the damn school district pay her a hundred grand?

Oh, well, by the time Tuesday passes I assume the suit will be a non-issue and meet a merciful death. You know what I really think about it? I still like both Lara and Solis. Either one of them would be a big improvement on that board. Seeing two smart idealistic young candidates dragged into this kind of slime-fight by the big dogs makes me want to take a shower.

But remember, the lawsuit is against both Solis for not living in the district and the school district for failing to kick him out of the race, and Blue wants that hundred grand from Solis and the district to pay her for her trouble. Maybe everybody should do some negotiations with her anyway. Otherwise Craig Watkins could show up with the gendarmes and start slapping the cuffs on people. What Lisa wants Lisa gets, and it ain't always pretty.

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze