Elizabeth School Board Member Accused of Ethics Violation

Elizabeth School Board Member José Rodriguez Credits: Elizabeth Board of Education

ELIZABETH, N.J. – An Elizabeth School Board member violated state ethics rules by accepting campaign money from a lawyer later appointed by the board, asserts a woman seeking election to the board. 

The woman, Maria Lorenz, named board member José Rodriguez in the ethics complaint filed with the state School Ethics Commission. Rodriquez insists he did nothing wrong, calls Lorenz' action a shameful attempt at winning election and said he is sure the complaint will be dismissed. 

Lorenz, a member of a group called Elizabeth Parents & Students Care, is a familiar face at board meetings. She contends Rodriguez, on Dec. 8, 2015, accepted a $375 donation to his re-election campaign from Robert Varady of the law firm of LaCorte, Bundy, Varady & Kinsella. 

Sign Up for E-News

Lorenz believes the interaction was a violation of the Code of Ethics for school board members. 

Varady was appointed co-general counsel for the board at the board's re-organization meeting January 7. Rodriguez recused himself from the vote. On Feb. 18, the firm was among a group approved by the board under a professional services contract.  

An agreement between the law firm and the board says “LaCorte represents that it has not made a reportable contribution to any member of the BOE during the one-year prior to the commencement of the term of this agreement and shall not make a reportable contribution to any member of the BOE during the term of this agreement.” 

Lorenz also charges that Rodriguez has violated the board’s policy banning "pay to play."  

“It is my firm belief that Mr. Rodriguez has committed an ethical violation by way of utilizing his position as school board member to benefit others," contends Lorenz in her complaint. "Mr. Rodriguez is also in clear violation of the board’s own policy on Banning Pay to Play. The fact is that monetary contributions were made by Mr. Varady, a name partner in his firm, precisely 28 days before a re-organization meeting of the board. Mr. Rodriguez voted in the affirmative to appoint him as General Counsel to the Board of Education on February 18, 2016." 

Lorenz's complaint goes on to assert that Rodriguez’s judgment "has been severely impaired when he accepts money from a name partner and votes the firm in; instead of abstaining on the resolution to appoint Mr.Varady’s firm to the board." 

She further asserts that Rodriguez's "moral compass" is "out of service" and she asked the School Ethics Commission "to take formal action on this egregious and blatant unethical act.” 

In his response to the complaint, Rodriguez – pointing to meeting minutes - said he did not vote to appoint the law firm at the Jan 7 meeting. He said he cast an affirmative vote Feb. 18 to approve a form contract that included the firm in question.   

“As you know, Ms. Lorenz filed a complaint against me with the School Ethics Commission," Rodriquez told TAPinto Elizabeth. "It has been reviewed in detail by legal counsel appointed by the board, and they totally concur with my position that it is absolutely baseless. It represents nothing more than a desperate attempt by a candidate for a seat in this year's board election to try to smear my good name for her own political advantage by making accusations without any basis in fact or in law."

Rodriguez said he finds it unfortunate that, due to administrative procedural rules, the commission must allow Lorenz's complaint to be reviewed. 

"After they review the matter, we will file our request that the case be dismissed in its entirely as having no merit," he said. "Anyone can file a complaint of this type against a board member.  However, after they do so, they have to actually prove the charges they are making. Ms. Lorenz is simply misusing this process to try to gain publicity for her failing election campaign." 

Rodriquez additionally asserted the "real shame is that the taxpayers of Elizabeth have to bear the legal fees and costs necessary to defend this matter," and added he hopes Lorenz "will have the character and decency to reimburse the board and citizens" when the complaint is dismissed.

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News


Upcoming Events

Mon, June 4, 2:00 PM

Elizabeth Public Library, Elizabeth

Elizabeth Public Library Book Sale

Arts & Entertainment Giving Back

Tue, June 5, 2:00 PM

Elizabeth Public Library, Elizabeth

Elizabeth Public Library Book Sale

Arts & Entertainment Giving Back

Wed, June 6, 2:00 PM

Elizabeth Public Library, Elizabeth

Elizabeth Public Library Book Sale

Arts & Entertainment Giving Back

Goethals Bridge to New Jersey to be Closed Friday Night through Sunday

May 16, 2018

ELIZABETH, NJ - The Goethals Bridge to New Jersey will be closed to all traffic beginning 9 p.m. Friday, May 18 until 9 p.m. Sunday, May 20. 

The Eastbound to NY will remain open. Officials said the closure is necessary to construct the entry and exit ramps for the new westbound span.

At 9 p.m. Sunday night, the westbound span is expected to open in its final configuration, three ...

The 15th Annual Tour de Elizabeth Comes to Elizabeth this Sunday

ELIZABETH, NJ - Cyclists of every skill level are readying their bicycles in anticipation as the 15th annual Tour de Elizabeth that will roll through the city.\ this coming Sunday. 

This year’s ride, which is titled “Destination Elizabeth,” will begin and end at City Hall, is a family-friendly, 15-mile recreational tour of the City of Elizabeth’s historic ...

Suspect Charged in Fatal Hit-and-Run Flees Country

May 22, 2018

NORTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – A 36-year-old suspect charged in the hit-and-run death of a pedestrian May 15th has fled the country, according to Somerset County Prosecutor Michael H. Robertson.

Charges have been filed against Mario Infante, age 36, of New Street, Plainfield, following an investigation by detectives from the Somerset County Prosecutor's Office and North Plainfield ...

TAPinto Featured Franchisee: Steve Lenox of TAPinto Paterson

This week's feature will focus on TAPinto Paterson's franchisee, Steve Lenox. Find out how the current owner of a public affairs firm went from a former State Director for Senator Frank Lautenberg to a proud TAPinto franchisee for New Jersey's third largest city.


Q. When did you join

I joined in September, ...

'Turning Off the Morning News' brings comic twist

‘Turning Off the Morning News’ tackles today’s issues with a comic twist

By Liz Keill

PRINCETON, N J – Despite the late night comics, no one quite captures the insanity of the political/social status world like Christopher Durang.

His latest play, “Turning off the Morning News” hit the ground running.  John Pankow as Jimmy addresses the audience, ...

'To Kill a Mockingbird' Sustains Timeless Appeal

SUMMIT, NJ – The Summit Playhouse provides a stellar production of a much loved classic, “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

The Harper Lee novel, later a Gregory Peck film and now a stage production, retains all the warmth, intensity and integrity that made it such an appealing hit in the 1960s. And there will be a new production on Broadway in December with a script by Aaron Sorkin ...

20th Legislative District Assemblywoman to Receive Champion for the Common Good Award at United Way Annual Event

May 22, 2018

On Wednesday, June 13, 2018, United Way of Greater Union County will present Assemblywoman Annette Quijano, of the 20th Legislative District, with the 2018 Champion for the Common Good award at its 2018 Annual Celebration event. 

“I am incredibly humbled to be chosen to receive this award,” stated Assemblywoman Quijano. “I work hard every day to fight for the common good ...