Hudson County Superior Court Assignment Judge Peter Bariso ruled this morning that at Jersey City voters will elect five board of education trustees, instead of four, this fall, with at least 12 candidates on the ballot.
As HCV first reported, two lawsuits were filed this week in relation to the Jersey City Board of Education race: one to get former Trustee Matt Schapiro’s vacated seat on the November 5th ballot, and the other to get Alexander Hamilton certified as a candidate.
Hamilton, whose birth name is Vernon Alexander Hamilton, was disqualified from the race after circulating petitions for nomination that identified him as just “Alexander Hamilton.”
However, Bariso ruled on that matter in just a few minutes, indicating that he felt the candidate had not misrepresented himself in any way, given that he has always gone by his middle name.
“There’s no evidence to conclude that Mr. Hamilton used his middle name in order to gain some sort of unfair advantage or mislead the public that he is someone else. In fact counsel, the address on the petition matches the address on the voter registration, does it not?,” he questioned.
“Based upon that, as well as the legal briefing provided by counsel, I find that Mr. Hamilton … simply maintains his family tradition of referring to himself as Alexander Hamilton.”
Furthermore, Bariso ruled that Hamilton would be allowed to bracket with the “Change for Children” slate, which consisted of Asheenia Johnson and Noemi Velasquez prior to today’s hearing, bringing the total number of board candidates in this election cycle up to 12.
The other lawsuit was far more complicated, with the court spending over an hour on deciding whether or not Schapiro’s board seat should be on the November 5th ballot or the fall 2020 ballot.
The former official had previously noted that he had submitted his resignation letter to Jersey City BOE Business Administrator Regina Robinson on May 31st, noting that his resignation would be effective as of July 15th and explicitly stated he wanted his seat to be on the ballot this year.
After a few tense exchanges between Bariso and Jersey City BOE Corporation Counsel Michael Gross, the judge decided to call Robinson to the stand as he seemed legitimately perplexed as to why she never informed the full board that Schapiro would be stepping down.
“From May 31, 2019 to July 15, 2019, you’re telling me that the board was never advised that you received this letter?,” Bariso inquired.
“There is communications between the board president, the superintendent and Mr. Gross, in one or two emails but the [entire] board was not advised,” she answered.
“When you’re served with legal papers, did you advise the board?,” Bariso continued.
“I advise board counsel,” Robinson responded.
Robinson further stated that she did not advise the full nine-member board of the resignation based on the advice of counsel.
Gross and Bariso then had another back and forth over who was committing “gamesmanship” in this situation, but Bariso was staunch that Schapiro had followed all the proper procedures and guidelines in submitting his handwritten resignation at the May 31st board meeting.
Nevertheless, Gross said since his resignation was never acknowledged publicly, it still could’ve been rescinded it and the effective date of the vacancy wasn’t actually until the July 22nd board meeting when the governing body acknowledged it.
“Those facts don’t change whether Ms. Robinson told one board member, nine board members, or everyone in the world: the acknowledgement, it’s the acknowledgement – it doesn’t require a vote, but the public acknowledgement.”
Joseph Tringali, the attorney representing candidates Anthony Sharperson and David Czehut, shot back that there is no statue that says only the board can declare a vacancy.
“Where does it say that? Everything in 18:A12-15 is contrary to that assertion. Their assertion is that ‘we don’t have to say anything about the vacancy.’ There’s no time limit on when they can say something about the vacancy? What if they held it for six months because they want to keep their majority on the board?”
Ultimately, Bariso ruled that Schapiro’s seat will be on the ballot this November, and as a a result Charperson and Czehut will also be able to run with the “Change for Children” slate (both are seeking one-year terms).
In order to ensure a fair election, Bariso also opted to open the petition submission period for the one-year term until September 3rd so that Trustee Gina Verdibello, running on the Education Matters slate – typically the slogan of the team backed by the local teachers union – won’t have to run by herself.
Meanwhile, the Hudson County Clerk’s Office will still hold their ballot drawing on Monday, but in the case of the Jersey City BOE, they will only select the ballot positions for the nine candidates seeking the three, three-year terms.