School funding trial delayed indefinitely over emails

The trial that will determine whether the state is spending enough money to provide Connecticut public school children with an adequate education has been put on hold indefinitely.

Judge Kevin Dubay: Right now we don't even know the scope of the problem

Jacqueline Rabe Thomas/ CT Mirror staff

Judge Kevin Dubay: Right now we don’t even know the scope of the problem

The trial, which had been set to begin Jan. 6, was set back in recent weeks after attorneys discovered 77 email chains from the leader of the coalition suing the state in which she instructed people to delete the emails. It is not clear how many, if any, emails were actually deleted.

Surviving emails, released by the office of the attorney general, which is defending the state in the case, show Dianne Kaplan deVries instructing one of the parents suing the state as well as a potential expert witness —  Fred Carstensen, an economist at The University of Connecticut — to delete emails. Kaplan deVries is project director of the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding (CCJEF), which includes parents, teachers’ unions and municipal leaders.

“I need to keep you ‘clean’ for probable use as an expert witness . . . Getting you into the loop with ‘my’ people . . . risks their honest ability to claim that you’re an impartial expert not intimately involved with CCJEF advocacy efforts,” Kaplan deVries wrote in March 2010.

“Done. Deleting from both incoming and outgoing,” Carstensen replied.

But 77 email chains were never deleted.

As a result, the trial and all scheduled-filing deadlines — such as one for an exhibit list due Wednesday — were put on hold Tuesday by Hartford Superior Court Judge Kevin Dubay.

“Right now we don’t even know the scope of the problem,” Dubay said Tuesday during a conference with the attorneys representing the state and the plaintiffs. “We’re not going to set new dates at this point because we can’t.”

Joseph Rubin, an associate attorney general representing the state, told the court the deleted emails raise serious issues.

“They were deleted purposely and deliberately,” he said. “The question is how many [more] were there?”

In his response to the plaintiffs motion to delay the trial, Rubin write, “The Executive Director of the central Plaintiff organization engaged in a continuing campaign, over roughly ten years, to hide and destroy relevant evidence in order to keep it out of the hands of Defendants.”

The plaintiffs’ attorneys plan to investigate whether the deleted emails can be recovered and recommend a way to proceed if they can’t. The judge scheduled a hearing on what progress has been made for Jan. 12.

Kaplan deVries had no comment on the delay or the deleted emails.

The delay comes more than four years after the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that the state Constitution guarantees students the right to a minimum qualitative educational standard and “suitable” educational opportunities. The Supreme Court returned the case to the Hartford Superior Court for a trial to determine whether the state has met that standard and, if not, what remedies should be ordered.