Published Online: May 14, 1997

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Dallas School Officials Must Testify in Lawsuit, Court Says

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Several former and current Dallas school officials must testify in a civil rights lawsuit filed by two self-proclaimed watchdogs of the district, a state appeals court has ruled.

The April 30 decision was the latest turn of events in a six-year, million-dollar court battle between the 155,000-student district and the two parents, who have accused school officials of financial mismanagement.

The first salvo was fired by Don Venable and Rick Finlan in 1991, when they said in a civil lawsuit that the district had improperly spent $25 million from a 1985 bond issue. The money was intended for school construction, but Mr. Venable and Mr. Finlan said it was instead used to help refinance an old debt.

The men repeated the accusation to an investment banking firm hired by the district, prompting the district to file its own lawsuit in 1992. That suit claims the men illegally interfered with a contractual business relationship and defamed the district.

Both lawsuits were later dropped or dismissed, and the bond issue passed. But Mr. Venable and Mr. Finlan filed another lawsuit in state court in 1994, charging that former Superintendent Marvin Edwards, the school board, and two district lawyers were trying to thwart their freedom to criticize school policies.

A trial court rejected the school officials' argument that they should be immune from standing trial because they are "government actors" who can't be sued unless a constitutional right is at stake. And on April 30, the state's 5th District Court of Appeals affirmed that decision. No trial date has been set.

School Board Changes

Mr. Venable suffered a setback May 3 in the political arena, however. In local school board elections, he lost a bid to unseat incumbent Lynda McDow. Another incumbent, Lois Parrott, was also re-elected, but Kathlyn Gilliam, a 23-year board veteran, lost by 36 votes to community activist Ron Price.

John Dodd, a former mayor of the Dallas suburb of Farmers Branch, also won a seat.

The nine-member board, which has been frayed by racial turmoil in recent months, elected a white president, Kathleen Leos, a black vice president, Hollis Brashear, and a Hispanic vice president, Jose Plata.

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