The Legislature has hired an attorney best known for his role in the impeachment of Bill Clinton over his relationship with Monica Lewinsky to argue to the U.S. Supreme Court the state should not have to spend any more money than it does now to teach English to students who aren’t proficient in the language.
Ken Starr has agreed to represent the lawmakers who contend that both a trial judge and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals erred in concluding that provisions of a 2006 law designed to put the state into compliance with federal education laws are illegal.
But state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne, who is also challenging the lower court rulings, hopes to persuade the nation’s high court to throw out the entire case. Horne, who has his own legal counsel in the dispute, contends that federal courts no longer have any jurisdiction.
Whether any of the lawyers will be able to make their arguments remains unclear: The U.S. Supreme Court has not decided whether to even consider the dispute.
What also remains undecided is exactly who is paying Starr.
Barrett Marson, spokesman for House Speaker Jim Weiers, said he presumes the Risk Management Division — the state’s self-insurance fund — will pick up the $910 an hour Starr intends to charge. But Alan Ecker, a spokesman for the division, said no such contract has been approved — or, so far, even requested.
Marson said the Legislature is entitled to hire who it wants.
Anyway, he said, it is simply substituting one lawyer for another. Marson said David Cantelme, who has so far been representing the Legislature and is being paid by Risk Management, lacks the experience Starr has at the nation’s high court.
That Starr is charging $585 more per hour than Cantelme is irrelevant, especially if the state wins, Marson said.
“Whatever the state pays for Ken Starr pales in comparison to what it would cost the state if we lost at the Supreme Court,” he said. He said Starr’s experience includes arguing more than 35 cases before the high court.
What that experience also includes, Marson said, is Starr’s 1998 investigation of Clinton in connection with the Whitewater real estate deal.
But his inquiry ended up focusing on Clinton’s affair with Lewinsky, a former White House intern. Based on that, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to impeach Clinton on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice in trying to cover up the affair.
The Senate, however, refused to convict.
“But that’s not the point,” Marson said.
The lawsuit, filed in 1992, charged the state was not providing enough cash to help English language learners, a violation of federal laws which require states to ensure that all students have an opportunity to learn English. A federal judge, in a 2000 ruling, agreed.
Since then the case has been in and out of court amid disputes over whether various legislative funding schemes put Arizona into compliance.