The federal judge issues his own legal opinion on admissions to examination schools; says he was misled by BPS over racist-tinged text messages
Federal judge stepped down on Friday its approval of the BPS system used to offer admission to the three exam schools, claiming that he had been misled by a transcript of text messages from school committee members that omitted the “Westie whites” comments.
The move will not affect the bulk of admissions already offered for exam schools for September, as the parent group had previously said they would not fight them. US District Court Judge William Young did not grant the group’s request to fully reopen the case; the case is now before the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, which has the power to ask it to reopen the case.
At a hearing on the case today, Young also said that even if the case is reopened, his ruling today does not mean he could always find that the school committee has nothing racially biased in approving a no-exam admission policy, but said he just couldn’t let an opinion stand that was not based on fact, in this case a claim by the city according to which an eight-page transcript of the school committee’s text messages was accurate, when it was not.
Young said it was the first time in 36 years on the bench that he had withdrawn a notice, but said he had no choice. “I have been misled and I do not see how the opinion can hold”, even if he was misled in a completely innocent way, as argued the lawyer of the BPS, Kay Hodge.
“Opinions are based on facts,” he said. “Facts.”
Young said he was prepared to consider whether any of the lawyers on the town side – both the inside lawyer and an outside law firm – should face any penalties. He pointed to an argument by Hodge that in-house lawyers innocently excluded text messages like “I hate WR” and they just thought it was the same as excluding text that said “I love Kit Kats” .
“It’s ridiculous, frankly, to equate the two,” he said.
William Hurd, attorney for the Boston Parent Coalition for Academic Excellence Corp., said that while his group was not going to fight for the seats allocated to the Boston Latin School, the Boston Latin Academy and the John D. O ‘Bryant School in September, he could ask the courts to order the BPS to use a non-postcode-based system to fill any seats that are not filled after school begins.
Longer term, he said, the group wants a permanent ban on the use of postal codes for exam admissions. And, as long as the courts consider his request to reopen the entire case, there is also the issue of pecuniary damages.
After Young withdrew his pre-approval, Hodge spoke to Young, “We apologize for any of these impacts and we will strive to do better.”
At the hearing, there was a transcript of text messages, given to The Globe and to a Dorchester resident who turned out to be a member of the parent group, of telephone text messages between members of the school committee during the October 2020 meeting to which they approved an admission system for September.
Hodge told Young that three City of Boston attorneys – company lawyer Eugene O’Flaherty, deputy company lawyer Henry Luthin and Shawn Williams, the city’s claims expert public records – collected screenshots of the texts, then wrote posts that they said did not involve government officials’ affairs, which can be expunged under the state’s public records law .
This is where Young’s anger increased, when he was told that they thought messages like “I hate WR” at a school admissions meeting were personal in nature.
Her judicial anger escalated further when Hodge, hired in February to defend BPS in the lawsuit, admitted that neither she nor any of the lawyers on her team were aware of the exclusions, or even that there had been demands for ‘public records for the texts, until the Parents’ group included the eight-page summary in its list of documents submitted to it and to the court as a basis for consideration of the case by Young.
And when she stated that the transcript was “true and correct,” she was unaware of the “Westie whites” omissions, she said, adding that she and her team were standing up to midnight on Saturday before a court hearing going through the thousands of pages of documents in the case.
But “true and accurate” doesn’t mean BPS said the transcript was “complete,” she said.
Young then asked her what she had done after someone leaked the omitted texts to The Globe, which, of course, quickly published them. She said that even then she didn’t know about them, because she was busy with other matters and hadn’t seen the Globe. But she admitted that once she learned about the case, she hadn’t brought them to Young’s attention.
The completeness argument “falls on deaf ears,” Young said.
Young asked Hodge if he had come to mind here that, no matter how innocently, “the court had been misled here?”
“Hasn’t it occurred to you to bring the matter to the attention of the court?” He asked. She admitted no.
She went on to say, however, that during legal proceedings what were the facts determined to be changes from the first stages to the final outcome, and that this was, in the end, an example of this , and which should not affect the final decision.
Young jumped on it. He noted that, in the interest of not ruining the lives of hundreds of students, whose futures may depend in part on learning which high school they go to, he had made both sides dramatically speed up the process. whole court process, so he could rule on the case before it was too late to send acceptance messages for the fall.
And while the text messages might not be the crux of the matter, they weren’t just peripheral – he noted that the two school committee members who exchanged them quit after the Globe story.
“There are phrases in this notice that if I had known [about the particular texts], I wouldn’t have written it that way, ”he said.