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Fort Bend ISD provides update regarding Sugar Land 95; responds after appeals court halts latest court action (8/6/2019)

Fort Bend ISD (August 6, 2019) -- For the second time, a Houston court of appeals has issued an expedited order staying an order issued by the judge in the Sugar Land 95 lawsuit. On July 26, 2019, the day after the District dismissed the lawsuit and announced that it would reinter the Sugar Land 95 in the spots from where they were each exhumed, Judge James Shoemake issued an order appointing a lawyer to serve as a guardian ad litem for the remains. On Monday evening, the court of appeals issued an order staying the appointment.


This is the second time the court of appeals has intervened to stay an order issued by Judge Shoemake. In a motion seeking expedited review of the judge’s most recent order, the District’s lawyers cited authority that the court’s order was void and of no legal effect because it was issued after the District dismissed its lawsuit. The court of appeals granted the order of stay within two hours of the District filing its motion.


Last December, the same court of appeals stayed another order issued by Judge Shoemake that appointed a different lawyer to serve as a court master in the case. The District challenged the order and the potential assessment of costs to the District. Again, the District argued to the court of appeals that the district court had no legal authority to appoint a special master in the case. The District expects an opinion from the court of appeals on that issue soon.


The District’s plans for reinterment are ongoing. District officials are in the process of procuring burial vessels and internment services. It is also in the process of transferring DNA samples to the Texas Archaeological Research Laboratory at the University of Texas at Austin. Curating the DNA samples with the UT archaeological research laboratory will allow future DNA testing that may help determine the identities of the Sugar Land 95 and their possible descendants.


The District and county are also continuing to work on an agreement that would allow the District to transfer the cemetery to the county after the reinterment process is complete. As part of the agreement, the District is committed to conveying 10 acres of District property to the county for a memorial park commemorating the lives of the Sugar Land 95. Finally, the District is developing a student curriculum that teaches students about the District’s discovery of the Sugar Land 95 and the State of Texas's convict leasing program. 


"We are very excited about the opening of the James Reese Career and Technical Center and think the community will be thrilled with the state-of-the art learning opportunities it offers our students,” said Jason Burdine, FBISD Board President. “We are also proud of the work our administrators have been doing in creating a curriculum about the discovery of the Sugar Land 95 and the State’s convict leasing program. It’s important for students to know this history.”


“As for the judge's recent action, we don't understand why the court issued an order appointing a guardian ad litem after the lawsuit was dismissed. This is the second time the judge has tried to appoint lawyers in this case with the expectation that the District would pay their legal fees, and twice the court of appeals has stepped in to protect the District by suspending the legal effect of the orders. The court of appeals’ rulings give us confidence that the District has correctly determined that the judge was acting without legal authority. Hopefully now that the lawsuit is dismissed, the District can focus its energies on honoring these individuals and ensuring that they are reinterred in their resting places as soon as possible as the remains have been sitting on trays for a year. The District also looks forward to finalizing an agreement with the county that will provide a permanent memorial."


The remains of the Sugar Land 95 were discovered during the District’s construction of the James Reese Career and Technical Center. The center will offer specialized courses available to all FBISD high school students, offering them a competitive advantage in preparing for their future, whether their plans include college, immediate entry into the workforce, or a combination of both.