What’s the headline here?

Mr. Vaughan’s lawsuit challenging how Lewisville ISD elects school board members has been given new life.  But the 5th Circuit affirmed the lower court’s slap on the wrist of the lawyers who have been representing him.  I’m not sure which one of those is the major headline.

STANDING TO SUE.  Mr. Vaughan is challenging the fact that LISD uses the at-large system to elect all seven board members. He argues that this dilutes the voting power of racial minorities.  LISD pointed out that Mr. Vaughan is not a member of a racial minority group, and thus he did not suffer any “injury in fact” and therefore lacked “standing” to pursue this case.  The district court agreed with that, declared Mr. Vaughan’s suit “frivolous,” and ordered him to reimburse LISD for attorneys’ fees. 

The 5th Circuit has now reversed that decision in part. The court held that the lower court went too far when it declared the suit “frivolous.”  The court did not say that Mr. Vaughan has standing, but simply held that his argument was not so far “out there” that it could be labeled as “frivolous.”  So it goes back to the federal district court for more proceedings. 

THE LAWYERS.  The lower court ordered sanctions against Mr. Vaughan, the law firm that represented him, and the individual lawyers in the firm.  The 5th Circuit reversed two-thirds of that.  As noted above, the court concluded that the suit was not “frivolous” to the point that sanctions paid by the plaintiff were appropriate.  The court also noted that earlier cases had concluded that sanctions for inappropriate lawyer behavior should only apply to the lawyers, not the law firm. But the court held that the lower court did not abuse its discretion when it ordered the individual lawyers to pony up some money for making the depositions last so long.  Key Quote:

The attorneys questioned school board members on a range of topics that bear little relevance to a voting rights lawsuit, including a separate Title IX suit against the school district, claims of sexual harassment at a school, state standardized testing, mental health accommodations for students during standardized testing, and board members’ individual views on policy topics such as allowing teachers to carry guns on campus.

The court sent the matter back to the lower court with orders to “identify ‘which, in any, excess costs, expenses, or attorney’s fees were incurred because’ of the attorneys’ unreasonable and vexatious multiplication of proceedings through irrelevant deposition topics.”

It’s the latest, but probably not the last, ruling in Vaughan v. Lewisville ISD, decided by the 5th Circuit on March 9, 2023. It’s cited at 62 F.4th 199.


Got a question or comment for the Dawg?  Let me hear from you at jwalsh@wabsa.com

Tomorrow: Toolbox Tuesday!!