18 months after a complaint was filed, the New Jersey School Ethics Commission (NJ SEC) voted to reprimand former Jersey City Board of Education Trustees Sudhan Thomas and Marilyn Roman over a settlement with ex-Superintendent of Schools Dr. Marcia Lyles.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
Matt Schapiro, another former Jersey City BOE trustee, filed a complaint with the state on June 15th, 2020 alleging that Thomas and Roman violated the school ethics act, specifically the code of ethics for school board members.
He alleged that this occurred when Thomas and Roman voted in favor of settling Lyles’ federal lawsuit, which alleged the board created a hostile work environment and prevented her from doing her job, for $398,225 in late 2019, as HCV first reported.
“[Administrative Law Judge Nanci] Stokes maintains ‘a review of [Superintendent] Lyles’ complaint and administrative petitions demonstrates she alleged improper official actions taken by [Respondent] Thomas in both cases and [Respondent] Roman in the lawsuit’ and, therefore, their ‘interest in resolving these claims is one not fully shared with the public,'” the NJ SEC explains in their January 25th decision.
“ALJ Stokes also finds it noteworthy that Respondents ‘acted upon the advice of counsel and rely upon counsel’s determination that no ethical impediment precluded their voting upon or executing the settlement agreement.’”
Stokes added that since Thomas and Roman relied on the advice of counsel before casting their vote, along with the fact they’re both no longer on the board, the maximum penalty they should receive is a reprimand.
Jersey City BOE Counsel Michael Gross, who was also the school district’s attorney back in 2019, said the decision is being appealed and declined to comment further for that reason.
“This determination has been appealed to the Commissioner of Education as to both the finding of any violation and the recommended penalty. Pending the outcome of the appeal there will be no further comment from our office,” he said in an email.
Schapiro, who also filed a complaint that led to a reprimand against Trustee Lorenzo Richardson last year, recognized that the commission’s decision has little value outside of the history books.
“It’s almost three years later, and Sudhan and Marilyn and I are no longer board members. And Sudhan is accused of much more serious crimes than this,” he began.
“So I guess these ethics violations are left simply to serve as a record for future historians studying this turbulent era of school governance; and maybe for Sudhan and Marilyn to reflect on what could have been.”
Thomas, who lost a re-election bud in November 2019, is accused by federal prosecutors of embezzlement, money laundering, and fraud for his time as the acting executive director of the Jersey City Employment and Training Program.
In a separate case, the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office alleges that he took a $35,000 in cash bribes for a potential city council run from a cooperating witness in exchange for offering him a contract with the BOE.
In both instances, he has pleaded not guilty and the cases are ongoing.
As for Roman, a former acting mayor, she decided not to seek re-election last year after many decades of public service.