Practice/Industry Group Overview
Sutherland has a long history of representing educational institutions and officials at the state and local level in complex matters ranging from school funding and adequacy litigation to voting rights and desegregation cases.
Sutherland’s practice grew out of its work as general counsel to the Fulton County Board of Education – a representation that continued for over 70 years and was initially led by Elbert Tuttle, who in 1954, was appointed by President Eisenhower to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Judge Tuttle went on to become a champion of civil rights, vigorously enforcing the mandates of Brown v. Board of Education.
Over the years, Sutherland attorneys expanded the practice well beyond work for a single school system and have been retained to handle important cases and matters for large school districts throughout Georgia and nationally, as well as for many state governments, and K-12 private and higher educational institutions.
Experience. Sutherland has represented educational entities for 70 years. During that time, we have seen the legal landscape change in the funding of schools and the adequacy and equity of educational programs. We are proud of our contributions to the development of the law in many significant cases.
Depth and Breadth. Our clients benefit from our experience handling matters at all levels of education and government. We have represented states, local governments, private and charter schools, as well as education management organizations. We are able to handle a wide range of matters from constitutional challenges to school funding laws to school construction, employment, special education and student discipline matters.
Proactive counseling. Our attorneys are aware that the legal environment is evolving rapidly with each new case, and they make it their business to brief our clients on any major legal development that could alter the way they must operate. We are even certified through the Georgia Department of Education to offer training to our clients' staff to ensure that everyone is aware of the legal requirements demanded of them.
Private school experience. The legal situation of private schools varies from public schools, and we have decades of experience in both. We know the challenges facing private educational institutions, including board governance, accreditation, tax-exempt status, and funding.
Nuts and Bolts
Public School Districts and Charter Schools
- Currently serve as general counsel to the DeKalb County School District, the third largest school district in the State of Georgia
- Currently represent all charter schools in the Atlanta Public School System (APS) in litigation against APS, seeking recovery of millions of dollars in local revenue funding under state law
- Represented the DeKalb County School District in litigation against the State of Georgia, seeking recovery of transportation and desegregation costs
- Represented the Savannah-Chatham County School District in obtaining release from federal court supervision of its school desegregation efforts
- Advised the Palm Beach County (Florida) School District in connection with various civil rights and diversity matters
- Advised the Charleston County (South Carolina) School District in connection with desegregation matters
- Represented Prince George’s County (Maryland) in obtaining unitary status for the Prince George’s County schools
- Advised the Knox County (Tennessee) School District in OCR proceedings and district reorganization matters
State Governments and Officials
- Represented the State of Georgia, State Board of Education and Superintendent of Schools in a constitutional challenge to the State’s school funding statutes
- Represented the State of Missouri in obtaining release from federal court supervision in the long-running Kansas City school desegregation case
- Represented the State and Governor of Michigan in obtaining unitary status in the Benton Harbor school desegregation case
- Represented the States of Connecticut, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, New Hampshire and New York and the Florida House and Senate in constitutional challenges to the educational adequacy and funding of public schools
- Consultant on school adequacy matters to the States of Texas, Arizona and South Carolina
Colleges and Universities
- Duke University
- Emory University
- Spelman College
Private Schools and Organizations
- Atlanta Girls’ School
- Ben Franklin Academy
- The Children’s School
- Communities in Schools of Georgia
- Marist School
- Notre Dame Academy
- Pace Academy
We regularly advise our education and government clients in connection with:
- School finance
- School and board governance
- Special education and student matters
- Competitive bidding and purchasing
- Real estate and construction projects
- Bonds and public finance
- School zoning and re-districting
- Tax exempt status and education foundations
- Open government matters
- Constitutional law
Our reputation in the field has resulted in our attorneys regularly serving as panelists or featured speakers at meetings of the following organizations:
- Georgia School Boards Association
- National School Boards Association
- National Association of Attorneys General
- The Association for Education Finance and Policy
- American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research
- American Legislative Exchange Council
- John F. Kennedy School of Government, Program on Education Policy and Governance
- National Association of Attorneys General
Sutherland's clients in education, government and civil rights receive service drawing on the accumulated experience of attorneys from all seven of our major practice areas. Over 70 years, our attorneys have not only seen legal history in the making, they have made much of it.
Sutherland represents State of Georgia, State Board of Education and State School Superintendent in challenge to state’s school funding laws.
Sutherland attorneys successfully represented the State of Georgia, State Board of Education and State School Superintendent in a constitutional challenge to the state’s public school funding statutes. The plaintiffs dismissed their case shortly before the scheduled trial.
Sutherland represents all start-up charter schools in City of Atlanta against Atlanta Public School System.
We currently represent all charter schools in the Atlanta Public School System (APS) in litigation against APS, seeking recovery of millions of dollars in local revenue funding under state law. The trial court granted our client’s petition for relief and the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed the order.
Sutherland and Michigan AG defend State and Governor of Michigan in 35-year-old school desegregation case.
Sutherland, along with the state attorney general's office, represented the State and Governor of Michigan in a 35-year-old school desegregation case involving the Benton Harbor School District. After a three-week trial, the court granted the State's motion for unitary status, resulting in a phase-out of extraordinary state funding for the districts.