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Did the Brick BOE Pay an Attorney to Create a Document They Now Say Doesn’t Exist?

Brick Township Board of Education/Schools (Photo: Daniel Nee)

Brick Township Board of Education/Schools (Photo: Daniel Nee)

Brick Shorebeat filed a complaint against the Brick Township Board of Education with the state Government Records Council this morning after a district official denied a document request, saying the document does not exist.

James Edwards, the district’s business administrator and custodian of records, denied the request for a document, or draft document, listing termination charges to be filed against suspended schools Superintendent Walter Uszenski. According to legal bills obtained by Shorebeat in a separate request filed under the state’s Open Public Records Act, the district was charged by board attorney Nicholas C. Montenegro for his time researching and creating the documents.

Requests for comment on the matter sent to Edwards and Interim Superintendent Thomas Gialanella went unanswered.

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Potential termination charges against Uszenski were first discussed at the school board’s reorganization meeting in January, when newly-elected board member Victoria Pakala made a motion instructing Montenegro, who was appointed attorney the same night, to report back to the board at its next regularly scheduled meeting “options regarding termination of his existing contract,” meeting minutes state.

The matter was never discussed at a future meeting, but legal bills show numerous instances of Montenegro researching and drafting the termination documents. On Feb. 1, Montenegro charged the district $290 after he “drafted statement of initial termination charges 1-7.” Earlier, on Jan. 14, Montenegro charged the district $391.50 for “legal research/analysis of legal issues related to pending charges – filing of termination charges.”

Two days after the draft was apparently authored, on Feb. 3, the district was charged $159.50 after the attorney “reviewed, revised and finalized draft of tenure charges.” The entry included work that included a “cover letter for filing, telephone call to prsecutor’s office.” On Feb. 9, the district was charged $87 for, as stated in the invoice, “Revised and finalized draft of charges for review/discussion with interim superintendent, review of policy 5118, exhibit attachment.”

Though Uszenski’s full name does not appear on the legal invoices, his initials are present next to each entry. Policy 5118, which Montenegro researched, covers “nonresident students.”

Uszenski is charged with official misconduct and theft for allegedly providing educational services to his grandchild that the child was not qualified to receive. His daughter, Jacqueline Halsey, the child’s mother, was also charged, along with Andrew and Lorraine Morgan, two administrators in the district. All have been indicted, though Lorraine Morgan was permitted into a diversionary program under which the charges would eventually be dismissed. The state is appealing her admission into the program.

“A document outlining termination charges is of vital importance to the public interest,” said Daniel Nee, editor and publisher of Shorebeat. “It is a document for which the taxpayers paid, and a document that has the potential to be key in future legal matters concerning the Uszenski case.”

In the case that Uszenski is acquitted of the charges – or if they were to be dropped – the district would likely be responsible for paying Uszenski’s back salary over the time he has been suspended without pay. Termination charges, however, could alleviate the district’s liability.

According to the Government Records Council, complaints are to be answered by the custodian of record and decided by the council, which renders opinions on issues concerning the Open Public Records Act.

[box type=”shadow” align=”” class=”” width=””]Read the Complaint: