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'Peeling an Onion' 

The state runs out of money to pay private lawyers to fight TUSD, ethnic-studies teachers

It's been more than a year since attorney Richard Martinez filed a federal lawsuit against the state on behalf of 11 Tucson Unified School District teachers in the Mexican-American Studies Department.

Since then, Martinez has watched as some members of the community have rallied in support of the program, while others have fought it—despite an audit by a private company that showed the classes help students improve academically and increase graduate rates.

The audit—paid for by the state Department of Education—also confirmed that the classes do not violate the state's anti-ethnic-studies law. But state Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal has thus far stood by his own findings that TUSD is indeed in violation of the law.

"I describe it as peeling an onion," Martinez said. "Something always comes up when we peel it back, and we learn more."

The latest development in Martinez's case was the recent discovery that Huppenthal's office no longer has enough cash to keep paying the private firm hired to represent the state in the federal lawsuit and an administrative hearing.

"They had to substitute (Arizona Attorney General) Tom Horne," Martinez said.

Martinez filed a motion for summary judgment in October, and Assistant Attorney General Kevin Ray asked the judge for an extension on Nov. 8. "Now, Horne has two weeks to respond to our summary judgment," Martinez said.

In August, Judge A. Wallace Tashima allowed Martinez to add results from the Cambium Learning audit to the lawsuit. Today, Martinez describes the case as an Oreo cookie, with one cookie being Horne's agenda to make the classes illegal; the creamy filling being the Cambium Learning audit; and "then Huppenthal, which is just a poor imitation of Horne" as the other cookie, Martinez said.

Martinez said he has heard that the state has spent about $130,000 so far on the lawsuit and administrative hearings.

Andrew LeFevre, a spokesman for the Arizona Department of Education, confirmed that the Phoenix law firm Burch and Cracchiolo no longer represents Huppenthal, and that the case has been returned to Horne.

LeFevre was unable to confirm how much the state has spent fighting Martinez's case, but he said his department has an agreement with the Attorney General's Office that requires it to pay the attorney general for legal services.

"For the current fiscal year, our budget projections are for approximately $326,000. We won't know until the end of the fiscal year in June if that number is accurate/high/low," LeFevre wrote in an e-mail.

LeFevre said the specific amount of legal costs so far were available from the Attorney General's Office. However, spokeswoman Amy Rezzonico said she was not able to provide them as of our press deadline.

More by Mari Herreras

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