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Fine Print: Abbott v. Burke Hearing Orders

A pair of legal orders helps set the parameters for the latest round of Abbott v. Burke arguments.

Synopsis: Two legal orders filed yesterday for the upcoming fact-finding hearings on the latest challenge in the Abbott v. Burke school equity case.

The context: The challenge before the state Supreme Court claims the Christie administration violated the court’s latest Abbott v. Burke ruling with its severe aid cuts last year. In considering the challenge, the court remanded the matter to state Superior Court Judge Peter Doyne to hold hearings on the condition of New Jersey ‘s public schools and whether students' constitutional rights to a "thorough and efficient" education are being met.

The orders: Two orders filed yesterday set the stage for upcoming hearings that could prove pivotal in the court’s ultimate decision:

  • Doyne’s "case management order" set the schedule and other deadlines for filings. The hearings will run daily, including Saturdays, from February 14 to March 11 in his Bergen County courtroom in Hackensack.

  • The state Supreme Court order rejected a request by the Christie administration to extend some deadlines and also to include evidence of the state’s fiscal condition as part of the fact-finding.

The key sentence in one of the orders: "… the court having retained for its future consideration the question of what effect, if any, the State’s fiscal condition may have on plaintiff’s entitlement to relief …." – Justice Virginia Long, NJ Supreme Court

Why that matters: The state’s fiscal condition is at the center of the Christie administration’s defense for not fully funding the School Funding Reform Act last year -- instead cutting more than $1 billion in aid to local schools. It was presumably to be at the core of the latest hearings as well, but the order written by Long essentially said that question will rest on the full court to decide once Doyne’s work is done.

No end to the paperwork: The hearings will be newsworthy themselves, but more legal filings in the next two weeks should shed still more light on each side’s case. A key filing will come today when the state must submit to Doyne its list of witnesses in the hearings.

It will happen fast: Doyne is ordered to have a report back to the high court by the end of March.

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