The Pulse

Judge David Lee, who oversaw the Leandro school funding case, has died

By: - October 10, 2022 7:30 pm
Superior Court Judge David Lee

Superior Court Judge David Lee, who oversaw the state’s long-running Leandro school funding lawsuit, has died. He was 73.

According to an obituary posted online by Gordon Funeral Service and Crematory, Judge Lee died at his home Oct, 4 from complications due to cancer.

A memorial service is scheduled for Oct. 22 at First Baptist Church in Monroe, where Lee was a longtime member.

Lee said last year that he had been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer — a tumor had been found in his liver in 2019.

Lee was assigned to the Leandro case in late 2016 and oversaw it until March. That’s when Chief Justice Paul Newby assigned Superior Court Judge Michael Robinson to the case. Lee had reached the mandatory retirement age for judges in January.

In November, Lee ordered the state to spend  $1.75 billion on the first two years of a sweeping eight-year school improvement plan developed by an outside consultant and backed by Gov. Roy Cooper and the State Board of Education.

Lee said the state’s schoolchildren could no longer wait for lawmakers to meet their constitutional obligation to provide them with sound basic education.

“The court’s deference is at an end at this point,” Lee said.

A state Court of Appeals panel blocked the transfer, and Lee’s successor in the case lowered the amount Lee ordered funded to $785 million. The state Supreme Court heard oral arguments in August over whether the judiciary had the power to make such spending decisions. The justices have not issued a ruling in the case.

Leandro v. State of North Carolina was brought by five school districts in low-wealth counties that argued their districts could not raise enough money through property taxes to provide children a quality education.

In 1997, the state Supreme Court issued a ruling, later reconfirmed in 2004, in which it held that every child has a right to a “sound basic education” that includes competent and well-trained teachers and principals and equitable access to resources.

Lee is a South Carolina native who grew up in Unionville. He attended Western Carolina University and Wake Forest law school. He had been a longtime civil litigation attorney before being appointed to the bench in 2003. He served as president of local Jaycees and Rotary Club groups.

Lee is survived by his wife, three children and three grandchildren.

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Greg Childress
Greg Childress

Education Reporter Greg Childress covers all aspects of public education in North Carolina, including debates over school funding, curricula, privatization, and teacher pay and licensing.