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Judge Urged to Bar Public Funds From Prop. 187 Fight : Immigration: Advocate of the initiative argues that L.A. Unified School District should not be allowed to contribute to lawsuit against the measure.

February 17, 1995|PAUL FELDMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A lawyer for a leading proponent of Proposition 187 asked a Los Angeles Superior Court judge Thursday to order Los Angeles school officials to stop using public funds to fight the illegal immigration initiative in court.

Judge Robert H. O'Brien made no immediate decision on activist Glenn Spencer's request that the Los Angeles Unified School District be enjoined from participating in lawsuits against the popular but divisive ballot measure. But O'Brien, expressing skepticism toward the arguments of Spencer's attorney, Bruce Gleason, emphasized that the issue before him was not whether school officials are wise in litigating against Proposition 187 but whether they have the legal right to do so.

"This court's role is just to (determine) . . . if they're acting outside the scope of their authority," O'Brien said during a brief hearing on the request for a preliminary injunction. "It's as simple as that."

O'Brien is expected to issue his ruling today.

Hours after the initiative was approved by a 3-2 margin in November, the Los Angeles school district, along with the San Francisco Unified School District and the California School Boards Assn., filed a lawsuit in San Francisco Superior Court questioning the measure's constitutionality. That day, a judge agreed to temporarily bar the proposition's requirement that illegal immigrants be excluded from California public schools. The judge cited a 1982 U.S. Supreme Court decision that granted illegal immigrants the right to a free public education in Texas.

The following month, Spencer, president of Voice of Citizens Together, filed a lawsuit charging that the Los Angeles school district and six school board members were illegally using public funds to block the measure.

After Thursday's hearing, Spencer, who contends that public entities should stay out of lawsuits fighting voter-approved initiatives, said he thought O'Brien was likely to rule against an injunction. Spencer added that the legal move was "an interesting step but not vital" to his overall lawsuit, which asks that the six board members personally repay the school district for the expenses of the suit filed in San Francisco and for flyers concerning Proposition 187 that were sent to parents of schoolchildren before the November election.

Richard K. Mason, general counsel for L.A. Unified, said Thursday that the suit filed by the school boards has probably cost the district $200,000 but that it is by no means a frivolous expense.

"It is the right of the Board of Education to go to court to determine the constitutionality of the measure before we implement it," Mason said. "And it it quite clear that this initiative is not constitutional."

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