Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Velte on Justice Found and Lost for Colorado's Schoolchildren

Prof. Kyle C. Velte (Texas Tech) examines the decade-long constitutional challenge to Colorado's school-finance system in  A Tale of Two Outcomes Justice Found and Lost for Colorado's Schoolchildren, 12 Legal Comm. & Rhetoric: JALWD 115, 115-17 (2015). Velte uses narrative theory to analyze Lobato v. State, in which school districts, schoolchildren, and their parents challenged the inequity between between Colorado's wealthy and poor school districts. From the introduction:

This is a story about a story. It is the story of a gripping trial, scores of pro bono attorneys collaborating--in a way rarely seen since the 1960s Civil Rights Movement--on a civil-rights case for justice, access, and equality for all of Colorado's schoolchildren. It is the story of the thrill of a historic win, and of an agonizing defeat. It is the story about school-finance litigation as the perfect frame for understanding the power of and importance of legal storytelling. In the end, this story about a story demonstrates that a story lost is justice lost. It illustrates that when courts choose not to hear the stories of plaintiffs in school-finance litigation, justice for those plaintiffs, and for all of the participants in the public-education system, is lost and the historic divides between wealthy and poor school districts continue in ways to deprive children in poor school districts with a constitutionally adequate education.

This article tells the story of one case--Lobato v. State, in which dozens of school districts, schoolchildren, and their parents challenged the constitutionality of Colorado's state-wide public school funding system--and analyzes the impact of the stories told in that case to both the trial court and the Colorado Supreme Court through the lens of narrative theory.

The article's goals are two-fold. First, it applies three, intersecting, story types--a “Story of the Parties,” a “Story of the Process,” and a “Story of the Law”--to analyze how judges are influenced by story and concludes that trial courts can be influenced through the use of a powerful justice narrative told through a Story of the Parties frame. Analysis of judges' acceptance or rejection of stories through a school-finance case study adds to scholars' and practitioners' understanding of the role of stories and “narrative reasoning” in both litigating and judging.

Second, the article posits that when compelling Plaintiff Stories are told in such cases, and when courts choose to hear those Plaintiff Stories and to elevate those stories over the Story of the Process and the Story of the Law, students and school districts will prevail. However, when, as in Lobato, courts choose to minimize--in fact, ignore--the call of those Plaintiff Stories and instead choose to elevate the call of “law” stories or “process” stories, the loss of Plaintiff Stories means the loss of justice or, at minimum, the delay or deferral of justice.

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