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TAPinto Sues Flem-Rar Schools for Legal Bills in Ethics Complaints

58ce3abb99c6f7244b80_comegno_sample_bill.jpg
This heavily redacted bill was chosen at random, and is typical of Flemington-Raritan School District's response to TAPinto's request for copies of its legal bills. Credits: Stephanie Voorhees / Flemington-Raritan School District
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Flemington-Raritan School District Business Administrator Stephanie Voorhees Credits: Curtis Leeds / TAPinto Flemington-Raritan file photo
58ce3abb99c6f7244b80_comegno_sample_bill.jpg

Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part series about the Flemington-Raritan School District’s legal bills.

FLEMINGTON, NJ – As the outcome of an ethics complaint against one of its board members awaits resolution, TAPinto Flemington has sued the Flemington-Raritan School District to discover how much it has spent defending her.

The suit was filed in Superior Court this week.

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The ethics complaint against Anna Fallon was filed with the state School Ethics Commission by resident Mitchelle Drulis in June last year. It alleges that Fallon failed to disclose that her husband, Thomas G. Fallon, has a “business interest in Asset and Wealth Management Group, LLC, of which he is co-managing partner.”

The failure to disclose “creates a justifiable impression that the public trust is being violated,” the complaint states. “Mr. Fallon’s business is investment banking and Ms. Fallon has continued to vote on issues involving the school budget, and bonds.”

The suit, filed on behalf of TAPinto Flemington by CJ Griffin of the Hackensack-based law firm Pashman Stein, also seeks to discover how much the school board spent on an ethics complaint eight of its members filed against then-board member Alan Brewer.

While the board is representing Fallon in the ethics complaint against her, the school board refused to pay for Brewer’s defense. That led Brewer to sue for reimbursement of the $10,000 in legal fees he spent defending himself against the eight board members. The board members eventually withdrew their unproven complaint against Brewer, and the district reimbursed Brewer last month, as TAPinto reported yesterday.

Prior to filing the suit, TAPinto Flemington filed under the state’s Open Public Records Act for copies of all the district’s legal bills through November of last year.

In response to the request, school district Business Administrator Stephanie Voorhees provided copies of bills from Comegno Law Group of Moorestown totaling more than $122,000. Voorhees is also the district’s Custodian of Records and is named in the suit.

But, according to the suit, the bills “were heavily redacted so that every time entry contained redactions to the names of every person the attorneys spoke to, wrote to, or e-mailed, and redactions to every type of document that the attorneys reviewed, drafted, or revised ... For example, every single time there is a communication with someone, the name is redacted.”

As a result, it is not possible to “determine what matters the firm was working on, or whether the time billed for each entry was reasonable,” the suit states, and is in violation of state records rules.

The suit asks that the court compel the school district to provide it with un-redacted copies of the bills for review, and to require the district to explain “why each redaction is lawful.”

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