A trial for the contentious legal case involving the state and a coalition of students and alumni from Maryland’s four HBCUs has been postponed until December.

The presiding judge over the federal case, Catherine C. Blake, ordered the state and coalition to have “continued mediation” until a jury trial now scheduled for the first week in December. A trial had been set for July 11.

“It’s still too early to tell how these settlement engagements will go,” said Michael D. Jones, lead attorney for the Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Higher Education.

The group sued the state of Maryland and the Maryland Higher Education Commission in 2006 for supposedly imposing discriminatory funding and program approval policies. The plaintiffs allege the state’s practices exacerbate disparities between HBCUs and “traditionally White institutions.”

Attorneys for both parties began settlement talks during a private meeting June 20.

When asked about the progress of the confidential discussions, Jones said his legal team is still preparing for a trial. “We haven’t gotten far enough where I have a feeling about it,” he said. “What I can say is that we are a long way from me telling the team that we are OK and we can relax and not worry about a trial.”

Jones has said if they do reach a settlement, he wants to ensure the state’s historically Black institutions—Coppin, Morgan, Bowie and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore—all benefit.

“We want to be sure that however we come to a resolution, it will be meaningful for the HBIs,” he said in a previous interview.

David Paulson, spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office, confirmed the continued negotiations.

“It’s always better to settle than to go to trial,” Paulson said in an earlier interview.

A trial would center on the state’s operational funding procedures, approval of a Morgan State-like business degree program at Towson University and the University of Baltimore, and the HBCUs’ ability to control their mission statements.

The state and coalition are still wrestling over whether capital funding policies will be addressed.

Last month, Judge Blake said the coalition did not present sufficient evidence to move forward with allegations of discriminatory capital funding policies. The plaintiffs filed a motion for her to reconsider, which the state opposed. Blake has yet to announce if she will reassess capital funding.

The state’s attorneys had filed to have the case dismissed entirely in May, but Blake ruled that discussions would move forward.

The state recently added a well-known Black attorney to its payroll to ward off the coalition’s allegations. Kenneth L. Thompson, of the private law firm Venable, LLP, and two of his colleagues are expected to assist the state in their defense.

Shernay Williams

Special to the AFRO