05-22-2022  1:10 am   •   PDX and SEA Weather
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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) -- The federal judge who ordered an end last month to most of Arkansas' required desegregation payments has removed himself from the case, saying he could no longer make unbiased decisions after the state took over his hometown's school district.

U.S. District Judge Brian Miller made his decision public Friday with a brief order. He cited his ``deeply held personal opinions'' about the state's takeover Monday of the Helena-West Helena School District. Education Commissioner Tom Kimbrell dismissed the superintendent, Willie Williams, and dissolved the district's school board.

Miller and Williams were high school classmates and graduated in 1985 from the district, Williams told The Associated Press Friday night. Miller later worked as an attorney for the school board, Williams said. And Miller's brother, Kyle Miller, served on the school board that was dissolved by Kimbrell, said another board member, Rayne Gordon.

Williams said he hadn't spoken to Miller about the takeover.

``We believe that we had positive support from the judge, but again, I can't speak for him,'' Williams said. ``I don't know why he chose to recuse himself.''

Miller could not be reached for comment. He did not detail his opinion on the takeover in the order.

``In that the undersigned has significant knowledge of the situation in Helena-West Helena and has deeply held personal opinions as to the reasons for and timing of the takeover of the Helena-West Helena School District, the undersigned would find it difficult to render decisions unaffected by his personal opinions,'' Miller wrote, referring to himself as the undersigned.

``For this reason a conflict is created and recusal is necessary,'' he said.

The case will now be handled at the district level by Judge D.P. Marshall Jr.

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has stayed Miller's May ruling to cut off most of the $70 million Arkansas pays to three Little Rock-area school districts for desegregation programs. The appeals court is scheduled to hear the case in September.

On the same day as the Helena-West Helena takeover, Kimbrell also dismissed the superintendent and school board at the Pulaski County Special School District, one of three districts involved in the desegregation case.

Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel had asked Miller earlier this week to allow Pulaski County's attorney, Sam Jones, to continue the district's appeal. Miller had not ruled on that request before stepping aside.

A spokesman for McDaniel declined to comment Friday night.

Helena-West Helena, which serves about 2,300 students in eastern Arkansas, came under state supervision in 2005 due to financial problems and was returned to local control in 2008. But the state declared it under ``fiscal distress'' once again by September 2010.

Miller's family has a long history in Helena-West Helena. His father, Robert Miller, was elected Helena's first black mayor in 1998. Miller served as city attorney in Helena for 11 years and deputy prosecuting attorney for Phillips County, which includes Helena-West Helena, for six years, according to a Vanderbilt University Law School biography.

``His family has been a major player in this community from day one,'' Gordon said.

Then-Gov. Mike Huckabee appointed Miller to the Arkansas Court of Appeals in 2007. One year later, he became a judge on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas. In a 2008 speech, he described his ascension to the federal court as similar to being struck by lightning.

At that time, he described himself as conservative, but said he didn't think it would be appropriate for him to talk about politics as a judge.

``You'll probably never see me out in public talking politics,'' he said.

In his May 19 ruling cutting off most of the desegregation money, Miller accused the Little Rock, North Little Rock and Pulaski County Special school districts of taking state money without doing enough to earn it.

He aimed at both sides, though, calling himself a ``middle aged black judge'' who was greatly concerned about the progress of desegregation.

``After reading the briefs, the transcripts from the various hearings, and the scores of exhibits filed herein,'' Miller wrote, ``it is very easy to conclude that few if any of the participants in this case have any clue how to effectively educate underprivileged black children.''

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