The verdict is in, but the case is not closed.
So says the lead attorney for the eight poor South Carolina school districts that sued the state for lack of support and won.
A state Supreme Court opinion released Wednesday is expected to end 21 years of litigation. It was argued before the state Supreme Court three times, and at one time involved a Circuit Court bench trial that started in July 2003 and ended in December 2004. It included 102 days of testimony from 112 people, generating a transcript of 23,100 pages.
Attorney Carl. P. Epps III of Columbia, who represented the plaintiff districts, boiled the decades of wrangling and 59-page final opinion down to these significant points:
Epps was in his hometown of Beaufort when the opinion was released. In an interview at his villa on Lady's Island on Friday morning, he said Chief Justice Jean Toal took the right tack and hit the right tone in writing for the 3-2 majority.
"She said there are no losers in this case, that all South Carolina should embrace this decision because everybody profits by educating our children," Epps said. "I absolutely agree with the approach the court took."
The legislature will have to act. It can change the law, but it cannot change the Constitution without the consent of the people.
"They've never been constrained before," Epps said. "That's the key. They just can't ignore it anymore, as of Wednesday."
He anticipates working with the state's attorneys to push a remedy forward.
"We have already started working on it internally within my group of superintendents and clients, putting together a group of people who are experts in the field to develop a program," Epps said. "We have to be able to identify what is needed to give these kids an opportunity to learn, and resources and everything else that goes into trying to allow a child to learn."
He hopes meetings with the state's attorneys will start soon.
"It's a bilateral approach," Epps said. "We'll work with them. We look forward to working with the General Assembly and the General Assembly will work with us. I'm very confident that's going to happen."
Epps said it's more about consistency and opportunity than money.
"It's not a matter of throwing money against the wall and hoping it sticks," he said. "The problem is that's what the state does. It just says 'OK, I'll come up with a new program and I'm sure that will cure all the ills,' and it just never works.
"You have to come up with a reasonably designed program -- and I'm not in a position to tell you what it's going to look like -- but come up with a program of cohesive, informed programs for the majority of children of South Carolina and then you have to fund it. You have to consistently fund it."
Epps said it will take time, but too much time already has been wasted.
"I'm sure there will be some back-and-forth on this, but at the end of the day, we have to come up with an education program or programs that pass constitutional muster.
"If they can't, with our help, jointly agree on such a program or programs, the court's standing by to offer additional guidance or instructions."
Follow columnist David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.