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Open Government Advocacy Project:
After two years, Newark school board settlement still not "finalized."

Issue Detail:

In 2005, Veronica Williamson, who served as president of the Parent Teacher Student Organization (PTSO) in Newark, sued the Newark Public Schools claiming that the Alma Flagg Elementary School principal Roy T. Wilson improperly suppressed her free speech and assembly rights. According to her federal lawsuit, (Williamson v. Newark Public Schools, Federal Court Docket No. 05-4008), Wilson allegedly tried to silence Williamson's criticisms of the school's performance and safety. Specifically, Williamson claimed that Wilson tried to mute her in three ways: a) banning her or removing her from the school, b) prohibiting her from distributing PTSO flyers during a school talent show and c) canceling a PTSO meeting. A May 31, 2008 Opinion by United States District Court Judge William J. Martini said that "Williamson appeared on the local news to talk about the events described above [and] alleged that Wilson engaged in the aforementioned actions not only because she criticized him and the School, but also because she refused sexual advances." The Opinion goes on to say that Wilson disputes Williamson's claims of harassment and that criminal charges that Williamson brought against Wilson were eventually dismissed. According to Court records, the case was "settled" and dismissed on July 25, 2008. Yet, despite the passing of nearly two years, I am still unable to obtain a copy of the settlement agreement. In her June 30, 2010 denial of my most recent records request, Pamela D. Luke, the school district's custodian of records, denied my request for the settlement agreement because it "is a draft document with the terms thereof in process of negotiations. Access is denied pursuant to the Advisory Consultative Deliberative ('ACD') exception under OPRA, N.J.S.A 47:1A-1 et seq." Whenever the parties inform the court that they've settled a lawsuit, the written settlement agreement usually is signed within days or perhaps a few weeks thereafter. And, if the parties have difficulties reducing their agreements to writing, they will typically ask the court to reopen the case and conduct further proceedings. Here, the case has been dormant since July 25, 2008 and the matter is still not settled. Unfortunately, this deprives the public of knowing the amount and terms of the settlement. Without this information, it is impossible for taxpayers to know how much weight they should give to Williamson's allegations. My records request and Luke's denial are on-line here. Our blog on civil settlements is available here.http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com/ John Paff, Chair New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project Somerset, New Jersey




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