East Ramapo School District in Federal Court UPDATE The Journal News Feb. 20
“The federal judge deciding a voting rights challenge by the NAACP attacked the testimony of the president of the East Ramapo school board Thursday, suggesting he crafted his testimony to avoid telling all he knew about the role Orthodox Jewish leaders play in board elections.
U.S. District Court Judge Cathy Seibel, responding to an objection by a lawyer for the East Ramapo Central School District, offered her take on the testimony of board president Harry Grossman.
“I’m offended by what I’ve seen here today,” Seibel said. “And I think anybody who reads plain English would feel the same way.
“I cannot tell a lie,” Seibel added. “I do think this witness is not credible.”
The judge’s comments came roughly an hour into Grossman’s turn on the witness stand in White Plains as he faced questions that centered on behind-the-scenes efforts by Orthodox Jewish religious leaders to identify “slates” of candidates who will support their issues on the board.
The New York Civil Liberties Union, which is representing the Spring Valley chapter of the NAACP as well as several unsuccessful candidates for the board, says the district’s at-large system for electing board members limits the participation of black and Latino voters.
They’re asking Seibel to force the district to abandon the current setup and impose ward or neighborhood-based voting, which they say would increase the number of blacks and Latinos on the nine-member board.
And, the NYCLU says, the decade-long dominance of the board by white, Orthodox Jewish men has led to school budgets that favor the interests of private school students, nearly all of whom attend yeshivas.
The district spends millions of dollars every year to bus Orthodox Jewish students to school and pays for their special education needs.
Seibel’s comments followed an exchange between Grossman and attorney Russell Mangas, who represents the NAACP.
Mangas asked about a 2017 conversation Grossman had with Rabbi Hersh Horowitz, an influential leader in the Orthodox Jewish community, on the messaging platform WhatsApp.
In a transcript of their April 13, 2017, chat, Grossman tells Horowitz the deadline for candidates to collect signatures for petitions to run for the board was four days away.
“He collected all signatures, he just needs to number all pages and review them before submitting,” Horowitz replies.
Grossman testified that he did not know who “he” was.
But in a WhatsApp conversation from March 9, 2017, Horowitz told Grossman, “Oshry has been busy with it,” a reference to Rabbi Yehuda Oshry, when Grossman asked him who their candidates were for that year’s election.
Grossman’s response prompted the judge to ask: “Seriously Mr. Grossman? I rarely say this. You did take a solemn vow to tell the truth under penalty of perjury.”
Grossman has denied a “slating” effort was behind his two successful runs for the board, claiming his candidacy appealed to the parents of public and private school students.
He rebuffed suggestions his candidacy owed to the support of Orthodox Jewish leaders alone.
“To imply that I don’t represent the public schools, I’m sorry,” Grossman testified. “I take offense to that.”
To read the complete Journal News Coverage click here.