Judge: Hamburg School Board disciplinary meetings must be public

HAMBURG, NY - It turns out the Hamburg School Board cannot hold disciplinary hearings behind closed doors -- much less kick the public and the media out of the building, like it did last week.

The Hamburg School Board did not hold a disciplinary hearing Thursday night for a board member charged with official misconduct after a judge decided that it could not be held behind closed doors.

"The hearing will not occur Thursday night and the board of education will await further direction from the courts," attorney Andrew Freedman who is representing the Hamburg School Board said.

State Supreme Court Justice Diane Devlin decided Thursday morning to issue a temporary restraining order restricting the board from conducting any disciplinary hearings in executive session until she had more information to make a ruling.

Freedman said, "We are exchanging legal papers by Tuesday and the hearing has been scheduled for Wednesday."

The school district is asking the appellate division to review the judge's decision..

Back in April the school board charged board member Catherine Forcucci with official misconduct. Forcucci's attorney Margaret Murphy tells 2 On Your Side her client wants the hearing to be open to the public.

Murphy said, "She believes once the public and the media hear the facts that are being presented against her, and she's been given a chance to refute that evidence, they will agree with her. She's committed no act that would be misconduct and that would warrant her removal from the board."

There was supposed to be a closed door session Thursday night about the hearing until the judge's decision.

Bob Freeman with the Committee on Open Government explains the disciplinary hearing is not covered under the Open Meetings Act and believes the judge looked at this case like a quasi-judicial proceeding, which is a normal judicial proceeding without a judge.

Freeman said, "It's just like a court proceeding except it's being conducted by the school board and there's a unanimous decision by the state's highest courts indicating the quasi-judicial proceeding are presumably open to the press and public."

The Hamburg School board met in executive session June 11 to discuss Devlin's ruling. The district says that it is looking forward to complete the hearing process and reaching a decision on the merits, according to a statement from Freedman.


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