Days after a judge delayed further actions on the unearthed grave sites at the construction site of the James Reese Career and Technical Center, the Fort Bend Independent School District filed a motion asking the courts to reverse the order.
On Nov. 18, 434th District Court Judge James Shoemake assigned a court-appointed mediator called a Master in Chancery to address the matter of the excavated bodies, called the “Sugar Land 95,” found at the construction site grounds of the new tech center. That decision basically halted action the district’s forward action with the judge saying he expected a decision in March.
On Friday the district filed a motion stating why the Master in Chancery was not necessary and an order they want the judge to sign that states:
“The Court having considered the matter, is of the opinion that the Objection should be sustained and the Court’s Nov. 21, 2018 order of reference appointing Master in Chancery should be vacated,” according to the unsigned and undated document. A copy of the court order was sent to the Fort Bend Star.
“I think it shows what their intent is. Their public relations talk about being sensitive, but what you do in writing shows who they are,” said Kofi Taharka, national chairman of the National Black United Front, who was among a dozen people who attended the Nov. 18 hearing and one of the five who spoke to the judge before his initial ruling. “They don’t want to have the type of engagement the judge thinks is necessary and that’s what the order tells you. No matter what they say in public.”
“If we had not been in that courtroom, their (FBISD) story, which the judge seemed to agree with, wasn’t matching up with what those on the advisory board experienced,” said Taharka. “Now I wonder what stops the judge from signing that order.”
The district’s chief information officer confirmed the district’s request.
“The objections are that they (courts) ordered a vague purview or lack of scope of what the master is to do. The Master Chancery is used to work through complicated and scientific issues. This is not scientific or complicated. They are designed to assist two parties. There aren’t two parties, only one party and that is the school district asking for permission,” said Chief Communications Officer Veronica Sopher.
“It is worded better in the motion,” she added.
Last month Shoemake wrote a four-page decision on the initial request by the Fort Bend ISD. They petitioned the court to allow removal of the remains from graves discovered on land owned by the district. The judge called the matter in legal terms an “exceptional case” that would benefit from the assistance of an independent Master in Chancery who specialized in real estate law, mediation and civil litigation issues.
“As outlined to the court by the pleadings, party(ies) and other interested parties, the subject matter of this litigation involves the substantial and personal rights of what will most likely be in excess of 100 individuals, families and other interested persons and/or entities that may well be of a significant historical value and must therefore be handled with a great deal of care, compassion and thoughtfulness to the deceased and all parties and interested people involved,” Shoemake wrote in his decision.
He assigned attorney Michael W. Elliott of Richmond as Master in Chancery to, “assist the court with this important and complex case.”
Shoemake wrote that Elliott, “possesses legal and specialized expertise and employment background in real estate title industry, has experience and expertise in real estate law and is well versed and experienced with mediation and case amicable settlement process and is therefore especially qualified to assist the court with this important and complex case and that constitutes a sufficiently exceptional condition to justify his appointment.”
Contacted by the Star, Elliott said he has to remain neutral. “It is complicated and we have to treat this right,” he said.
A date for the request to be heard has not been set by press time.