“NAACP lawyers say the East Ramapo school district owes them $4.3 million for winning a voting rights lawsuit decided in May.
The district says the tab should be $1.
If forced to pay the full award, the district might have to fire some 50 teachers, administrators, psychologists and others in a mostly-minority district already facing $5.4 million in unanticipated costs from the Covid-19 pandemic, interim district superintendent Raymond Giamartino says.
Nearly 7,000 of the district’s 9,000 students needed computers so they could participate in at-home learning during the pandemic, Giamartino writes in court papers filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in White Plains.
“The depth of the reductions the District will face with this determination will indeed have a collective impact on our students and our community—those most at risk in Rockland County,” Giamartino writes. “A $4.3 million judgment will have a long-term impact not only on the students of the East Ramapo Central School District, but in the District’s ability to effectively develop the productive members of our community that are so necessary for community sustainability.”
Giamartino’s declaration came in response to a federal magistrate’s Dec. 29 report, pegging the district’s tab for the voting rights challenge at $4.3 million.
Judge Judith McCarthy rejected the district’s claims that the payout would be a “financial hardship” for a cash-strapped district whose $247 million budget was rejected by voters in June, forcing the district to cut $2 million.
McCarthy said the district spent as much as $650-an-hour paying its own lawyers to defend the current voting setup, which she said was “found to violate the VRA (Voting Rights Act) and unjustly silence the voices of minority voters.”
The district has already paid its own lawyers between $7.2 million and $8.9 million from its budget, according to the New York Civil Liberties Union and the private firm Latham & Watkins, which represented the Spring Valley chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Latham & Watkins says it will donate its fees to a non-profit dedicated to assisting East Ramapo’s public schoolkids.
In papers filed Wednesday, the firm argues that its fees “were reasonable in light of the District’s scorched-earth and win-at-all-costs litigation tactics, which included several of its Board members lying at trial, and the extensive effort necessary to address them.”
McCarthy’s report recommends reducing the firms’ fees to $2.8 million from the $7.54 million it requested.The NYCLU would receive more than $900,000 and $618,000 would go to experts and legal costs.
U.S. District Court Judge Cathy Seibel will decide the issue in the coming weeks.”
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