Orange BOE request for injunction defeated

ORANGE, NJ — The injunction seeking to stop the Orange School District’s change from a Type 1 to Type 2 format was defeated Monday, Feb. 27. Residents voted on Public Question No. 1 to make the change from an appointed to elected school board by in the November 2016 election.

Attorney Stephen Edelstein, hired by the Orange Board of Education to block the change, had filed the injunction. However, the Orange City Council hired its own attorney, Robert Tarver, to take on the case. Orange Mayor Dwayne Warren previously worked as a lawyer at Edelstein’s firm.

On Monday, Feb. 27, Office of Administrative Law Judge March Michael Antoniewicz ruled “the petitioner’s request for emergency relief is denied and this matter is dismissed.”

“I saw this case as the school board trying to restrict the will of the people,” Tarver said Monday, March 6. “We were fortunate that the court agreed with us. There was no jurisdiction. It is unfortunate in my mind when anyone seeks to take any measure that restricts access to the vote. I’m just not convinced that’s where we want to be in 2017.”

Antoniewicz wrote in his ruling on Tuesday, Feb. 28, that, “The petitioner states that this case is not a dispute over a school election … and that the effects of the passed referendum are far-reaching and that the voting public was essentially unaware of those effects, including eliminating the Board of Estimate and invalidating previously approved funding for the schools.”

Antoniewicz went on to note that the BOE’s case, “makes broad allegations that the ‘residents were unaware that they were voting to convert the Board to a Title II district’ and that ‘the referendum directly impacted bond financing for the educational needs of Orange students,’” ultimately rejecting those conclusions.

The judge added, “it is clear that the Commissioner of Education does not have jurisdiction to hear this case and, instead, it should be brought in the Superior Court of New Jersey,” and noted, however, that the state education commissioner has 45 days to review his decision and possibly reverse it.

But Tarver said it is highly unlikely that the state Department of Education acting Commissioner Kimberley Harrington would opt to intervene in this case, saying the “decision is subject to education commissioner’s review, but whether the commissioner agrees or disagrees is moot, at this point. The Mayor’s Office basically tried to tell us that we should not be responding as the City Council. The court itself said it was the proper responder.”

Furthermore, Tarver said he believed the BOE’s attempt to thwart the will of the people of Orange as expressed by the vote on Public Question No.1 had been doomed from the start.

“I thought they were overreaching,” said Tarver. “Courts are very hesitant to overturn the results of any election. They just don’t like doing it.”

Tarver had previously helped the council win its case against former Deputy Business Administrator Willis Edwards, wherein Superior Court Judge Christine Farrington found that Warren had illegally appointed Edwards to serve. Edwards was ordered to repay the $286,000 he’d been paid. According to city officials, Edwards has appealed Farrington’s judgment.

Neither Edelstein, city attorney Eric Pennington or anyone in the Warren administration could be responded to requests for comment about the Antoniewicz ruling by press time this week.

BOE President Cristina Mateo went on the record following the Jan. 23 board meeting, when Edelstein was hired.

“If it’s agreed that the process was done correctly, we welcome whatever process we need to work on,” Mateo said Jan. 23. “Whatever process we need to work on, we will work on. If we get two more members, we will do everything possible to educate those members, to make sure they also need to do what needs to be done.

“Eventually, this is a position that you’re either elected or voted on. This is all temporary, so we’re going to make sure that whoever takes our place or comes to the board is prepared enough to take over and to do what needs to be done.”