OAKLAND -- Two weeks after he is sworn in as an Oakland school board member, James Harris goes to court to defend his right to the seat.

Harris defeated Oakland school board incumbent Alice Spearman by a 14-point margin in November, but the contest isn't over. Spearman has filed a legal challenge, arguing Harris isn't eligible to serve on the board because he lives in a part of Oakland that belongs to the San Leandro school district.

"They're going to find him ineligible," Spearman said outside the courthouse Wednesday, after an inconclusive hearing on the matter.

Alameda Superior Court Judge Evelio Grillo sided with Harris in a tentative ruling he issued Tuesday. But on Wednesday, the judge had more questions about the case -- including whether Harris could, theoretically, hold school board seats in different districts.

FILE -- Alice Spearman and James Harris.
FILE -- Alice Spearman and James Harris.

"Can Mr. Harris run for the school board in San Leandro?" he asked.

Grillo set another hearing for Jan. 23.

Harris said afterward that he was disappointed the case remained unresolved. "I'm not really sure what this has to do with solving problems for kids," he said.

In their challenge, Spearman and her attorney have appealed to common sense, noting that Harris couldn't even vote for himself in the election. Spearman has called the situation "asinine."

In his tentative ruling -- which he might reverse next month -- Grillo acknowledged such "oddities." But he cited the Oakland city charter, which states that school board and City Council boundaries must be the same. Since Harris lives in City Council District 7, he is eligible to represent the same area on the school board, Grillo concluded.


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"Although the application of that plain language produces oddities -- i.e., Mr. Harris evidently could not vote for himself, and he might as a Director support the issuance of bonds that will lead to taxes he himself will not have to pay -- those oddities do not rise to the level of an absurd result requiring this court to not apply the Charter's plain language," the tentative ruling stated.

Even if Grillo does deem Harris ineligible, Spearman won't necessarily reclaim the position she now holds. The District 7 seat would be treated as a vacancy, to be filled through a special election or appointment.

But Spearman said she was confident she will be back on the dais, again. "I'm going to be in that seat," she said.

Read Katy Murphy's Oakland schools blog at www.IBAbuzz.com/education. Follow her at Twitter.com/katymurphy.