Chinni, Schwartz Broke FOI Law By Censoring
& Withholding Public Documents
In Stolen Election
U.S. Second Circuit
Ruling Way Overdue
As School Term Concludes
By ANDY THIBAULT
The Cool Justice Report
May 22, 2008
EDITOR'S NOTE: This story is available for reprint courtesy of The Cool Justice Report, http://cooljustice.blogspot.com
Freedom Of Information Report.
Will there be justice for free speech freedom fighter Avery Doninger and all the students who elected her Secretary of the Class of 2008 at Lewis Mills High School in Burlington, CT? How about the taxpayers footing the bill for an incompetent school board lawyer who runs up more and more fees every time she makes a mistake?
Perhaps there will be a little justice. Certainly the truth will be told. And, in the course of learning about a welfare system for board of education lawyers in Connecticut, citizens might be moved to do something.
The Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission issued a finding this week ordering attorney Christine Chinni to produce uncensored billing records for her "work" of behalf of now-retired School Superintendent Paula Schwartz and Lewis Mills Principal Karissa Niehoff. Those records were requested Aug. 1, 2007 and should have been produced then.
FOI Commissioner Dennis O'Connor, an attorney and former insurance company executive, put it this way in a decision dated May 20, 2008:
Chinni and Schwartz "violated 1-210 (a) and 1-212(a), G.S. [sections of Connecticut state law] when she provided the complainant [Thibault] with a redacted copy of the records ... Forthwith, the respondent [Chinni-Schwartz] shall provide the complainant with an unredacted copy of the records … Henceforth, the respondent shall strictly comply with the provisions of 1-210(a) and 1-212(a) G.S."
O'Connor declined to levy requested fines of $1,000 for this violation and other irregularities. He also declined to order Chinni and Schwartz to attend FOI workshops, as requested.
The entire FOI Commission is scheduled to vote on O'Connor's decision June 11.
Following is a Readers Digest version of the Doninger case:
Avery Doninger, a senior at Lewis S. Mills High School in Burlington, CT, has civil rights actions pending in the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York City and U.S. District Court in New Haven. She and her mother, Lauren Doninger, sued Principal Karissa Niehoff and Superintendent Paula Schwartz after they removed Avery from the ballot for Class of 2008 secretary.
Avery Doninger was among a group of four students who lobbied the community for support of an annual battle of the bands sponsored by the Student Council. The student council adviser suggested the students reach out to taxpayers and the students copied the adviser an on email to the community.
Schwartz became very upset after taxpayers called her and she cancelled the event known as Jamfest. Doninger subsequently referred to administrators in a live journal blog as central office douche bags, and Schwartz's son found the posting while trolling the internet for his mother a couple weeks later. While Avery Doninger was banned from school office, another student who called Schwartz a dirty whore was given an award and lauded for citizenship.
School officials suppressed the write-in vote in which Doninger was elected by a plurality. Schwartz refused to accept Doninger's apology for her choice of words. During an assembly, Niehoff banned free-speech and Team Avery t-shirts and seized at least one shirt.
The Doningers are seeking -- among other remedies -- an apology for civil rights violations, recognition of the write-in victory and sharing of the secretary position with the administration-backed candidate.
New Haven U.S. District Judge Mark Kravitz denied a motion for a preliminary injunction [immediate relief] last fall and his ruling has been appealed to the Second Circuit in New York. That appeal ruling is expected any day now.
The FOI hearing upon which O'Connor based his finding was held Jan. 4, 2008. It had been postponed twice: from Dec. 6, 2007, so Schwartz could vacation in Aruba during her last month on the job; and on Dec. 13, 2007, because of snow.
In another Freedom of Information matter, O'Connor chided Chinni and Schwartz for their lack of candor when the write-in ballots were requested on Aug. 1, 2007.
The hearing officer made the observation in an obsequious manner:
"Counsel informed the complainant that the school district did not maintain any 'copies' of the write-in votes for Ms. Doninger … It is found that the school district maintains the original ballots … The respondent's original interpretation of the complainant's request … is not reasonable."
Again, O'Connor declined to levy a requested fine of $1,000.
O'Connor also ruled that a letter from Massamont Insurance Agency informing Schwartz that the Hartford firm Howd & Ludorf had been retained to represent her should have been provided promptly after the Aug. 1, 2007 request. The failure to produce that document promptly was noted as another violation of Connecticut law.
Finally, O'Connor declined to rule that the Howd & Ludorf billing records - generated by a taxpayer-funded insurance policy - are public documents.
Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission's
30th anniversary commemorative edition
published as a supplement in 2005
to Law Tribune Newspapers]