Essex County News

Bullying Complaints Spark Nearly $100,000 in South Orange - Maplewood School District Legal Bills 

Joe Fischetti

SOUTH ORANGE AND MAPLEWOOD, NJ - The South Orange Maplewood School District has spent nearly $100,000 on legal fees related to cases of alleged bullying in the district during just the past two years, according to district records.

Legal invoices for lawyers hired to handle cases of Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying (HIB) reveal that the district has been billed for $96,995.69 for those legal services in 2016 and 2017.

TAPinto SOMA received the information in response to a public records request for all such invoices dating back to 2011. But only the 2016 and 2017 records were provided, indicating none existed for the previous five years.

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Most of the invoices are from Schenck, Price, Smith and King of Florham Park, which was retained last year to handle cases related to HIB complaints against former Columbia High School (CHS) head baseball coach Joe Fischetti.

The district revealed last summer that that firm had racked up nearly $20,000 in legal fees related to the baseball issues. 

The latest invoices indicate the same firm has amassed a total of $90,657.22 in fees, but does not indicate which HIB cases are involved.

The remaining $6,338.47 is for the firm of Nirenberg & Varano of Hackensack, but with no indication of which cases are involved. The invoices indicate that firm is billing for just two cases. 

South Orange - Maplewood School District officials did not respond to a request for comment on the legal fees. But South Orange - Maplewood School District Superintendent John Ramos pointed out via email that the Nirenberg & Varano fees are covered by insurance, although he did not elaborate on why or what the policy included.

The larger remaining fees appear to require district budget expenditures to the tune of more than $90,000.

It is unclear how much of the legal cost is related to a lawsuit filed by former CHS baseball player David DeFranco, who sued the district in early 2016 claiming abuse.

Interestingly, the higher legal costs come at a time when HIB complaints are down district-wide.

Data supplied by the district several months ago found that while there were 95 HIB complaints filed in 2013-14, that dropped to 70 in 2014-2015, and to 37 in 2015-2016. As of May 3, 2017, there had been only 29 filed for this past school year.

The costs do not include further legal charges likely to come from defense of a lawsuit filed recently by former CHS baseball coaches Joe Fischetti and Matthew Becht that claims wrongful termination.

Related article

Former Columbia H.S. Coach Fischetti Sues District, Claims 'Sham Investigation' Forced Him Out

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