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Apr 14, 2017 4:47 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Court Orders Southampton School District To Turn Over Farina Materials For Review In Private

Former Southampton School District Superintendent Dr. Scott Farina. PRESS FILE
Apr 19, 2017 9:07 AM

A State Supreme Court justice has ordered the Southampton School District to turn over documents related to the investigation of former Superintendent Dr. Scott Farina so that he can review them privately and decide whether they should be released to the public, according to an April 11 ruling in a Freedom of Information lawsuit filed by the Press News Group.

Justice Daniel Martin gave the district 20 days to turn over to him the “materials of the publicly funded investigation” of Dr. Farina by the Garden City-based firm Jaspan Schlesinger LLP. He will review the documents “in camera,” or in private, to balance “the competing interests between public access on the one hand and an individual’s privacy on the other.” Justice Martin can then decide to make the documents public, redact some information before releasing them, or order that they are not subject to the state’s Freedom of Information Law, or FOIL.

The publishers of The Southampton Press, The East Hampton Press and the website 27east.com filed the lawsuit in State Supreme Court in August 2016, asking the court to compel the school district to release the results of an investigation—paid for with taxpayer dollars—of Dr. Farina, which was conducted earlier that year, and which eventually led to his resignation and a $300,000 payout as part of an agreement in April.

The Press News Group is being represented by media law attorneys Rachel F. Strom and James E. Doherty of the Manhattan-based law firm Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz LLP. The Southampton Association is sharing the cost of the lawsuit.

In the lawsuit, the Press argued that the information being sought “unquestionably [involve] matters of significant public concern” and led to Dr. Farina’s decision to resign. It noted that the district’s “blanket refusal” to provide any information violates FOIL. “The significant public interest in such information … overwhelms any possible privacy interests here,” the Press News Group’s attorneys argued.

The Southampton School Board lightly addressed the lawsuit on the district’s website with a statement this week acknowledging the ruling: “The district understands our community members wanting more information. However, we also respect the privacy and are involved in this lawsuit to protect all—district employees and non-employees alike—who participated in the investigation. It is an unfortunate situation for those involved.”

The Press filed a FOIL request in April 2016 for a report resulting from the investigation, but was denied by the district, which cited an “unwarranted invasion of personal privacy” as the primary reason.

When the School Board accepted Dr. Farina’s resignation, former President Heather McCallion read from a prepared statement that the move was a direct result of the investigation. Ms. McCallion would not go into details about what investigators found, calling that information “confidential and not subject to public disclosure.” Both the district and Dr. Farina agreed to a confidentiality agreement as part of the settlement.

Robert Freeman, the executive director for the State Committee on Open Government, has said the school district was wrong in refusing to disclose the findings of the investigation to the Press. Unlike students, who are protected under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, where employees are concerned, “the courts have pretty much said [they] have less privacy than anyone else,” he said, especially when it involves the performance of their official duties.

The Press cited Mr. Freeman’s opinions in its arguments—but Justice Martin noted in his decision this week that the school district did as well. The district noted that Mr. Freeman has also said his office “supports withholding disclosure when unproven allegations are involved.”

Justice Martin also ruled that the plaintiffs are not due court costs and attorneys’ fees. The court has the option of awarding a plaintiff attorneys’ fees in a case in which a municipality has failed to answer a FOIL request in the requisite time, or, as the Press alleges in this case, has unreasonably refused to provide public information.

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So, I'll just go back to my original comments on this case... it's a loser. The Press emphasized the reimbursement of court costs in several articles on this complaint, and, as expected, the court disagreed. So, now the Press, and the Southampton Association, which is splitting the bill (not mentioned in the article above, but should be), are at least now going to have to pay for this self-initiated fishing expedition.

You might still win, but odds are once the judge gets a private look ...more
By Rickenbacker (257), Southampton on Apr 14, 17 5:10 PM
1 member liked this comment
You're absolutely right--it was an oversight not to mention the Southampton Association. Story updated to add that.
By Joseph Shaw, Executive Editor (206), Hampton Bays on Apr 14, 17 10:16 PM
2 members liked this comment
You are trying to distract the people from looking at the true story here. The true story is "Why are the taxpayers paying all this money for an administrator who violated board of education policies. And why can't they know what the hell happened"

Every parent has the right to know what the hell is going on at the place they send their children for approx 8 hours a day. Parents also have the right to know if the adults (employees) at the school violated board of education policies.
By A_Concerned_Parent (37), manorville on Apr 15, 17 5:46 AM
2 members liked this comment
So, you're not happy that someone else is stepping up to foot the bill in the interest of the community? Hm.

I have my misgivings about the way this was covered early on, seeing as people who seemingly did much worse weren't vilified like Farina, but to defend the district here is asinine.
By Brandon Quinn (191), Hampton Bays on Apr 14, 17 5:33 PM
It's not just someone else, it's the Southampton Association. The same group of people who helped derail the Tuckahoe merger and which consequently has now landed both districts into financial peril.

I'm not defending the district at all. I just think this "noble" act of the Press for a self-righteous "benefit" to the community misses a lot of practical reality when it comes to legal contracts and non-disclosure agreements. The fact that the Press trumpeted its belief as front page "news" ...more
By Rickenbacker (257), Southampton on Apr 14, 17 5:49 PM
You need to explain what Farina did and who did what that was worse. Your comment reflects you know both. I bet you don't know either.
By SlimeAlive (1181), Southampton on Apr 15, 17 6:37 AM
Jeez Mr Florio, still peeved that your UTI sized shopping center project got shot down I see.
By bigfresh (4666), north sea on Apr 15, 17 8:00 AM
I would suggest that you look more closely at Farina's time at the Garnet Valley School District. There were many strange personal issues there, that were well known within the school community. Obviously SH knew about these issues, or dismissed them when they hired him. The investigation should have been done before he was hired.
By evananda (4), East Hampton on Apr 14, 17 6:24 PM
1 member liked this comment
Too bad it costs so much to stand up for what is right and to determine the truth of the matter and publish that for all to see and to let the public learn how in the world this man got off what should have amounted to serious charges against him and how in the world he also got paid in the process. So much is the anxiety about the costs in fact that the truth of the matter becomes LOST amidst the Press attempting to not lose its shirt as well as its integrity for its thwarted determination of ...more
By Vikki K (490), Southampton on Apr 14, 17 6:27 PM
the taxpayers have 300,000 plus reasons to know the true inside story of what went on with this situation
By xtiego (698), bridgehampton on Apr 14, 17 6:43 PM
wait, i thought Farina was just blackmailed and instead of dealing with it all was swept away. ...in this case i bet we'll see that our focus has been on the victim and that we have all said lots of dumb stuff!
By dogfacejones (81), Southampton on Apr 14, 17 7:55 PM
The victim(s) here are the taxpayers and students. Whatever Farina has done or not done should be public knowledge. Just more wasted money and wasted energy taken away from the students.
By A_Concerned_Parent (37), manorville on Apr 15, 17 5:48 AM
1 member liked this comment
No school district in this country has top secret information. Why are taxpayers being kept in the dark about employees.? We as taxpayers are ultimately the employers no personal information of Any teacher with wrongdoing should ever be kept from the taxpayer. Why did we give $300,000 to someone who obviously did something wrong question mark why is nobody being held accountable for this? Rickenbacker I have a feeling you are on the board or have something to do with the district because your comments ...more
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Apr 15, 17 12:15 AM
1 member liked this comment
If you are going to give a homeless surfer dude truckloads of our money that we work hard to earn the least you could do is explain why.
By SlimeAlive (1181), Southampton on Apr 15, 17 6:32 AM
The judge should just release the report and redact Mr. Farina"s name out...We will read between the Sharpee marks...:)
By V.Tomanoku (790), southampton on Apr 15, 17 9:16 AM
First, I have no knowledge of what went on with Farina, only the rumor that's out there, which is what I expect everyone else commenting here has heard. And I guess that's my point. The superintendent had a contract to work in the district, and we are not privy to that contract, I suppose, but normally in contracts there are clauses that protect both parties from wrongdoing on either side. However, if one were to believe the rumor, then it was also not an incident that happened on school property ...more
By Rickenbacker (257), Southampton on Apr 15, 17 11:57 AM
I know nothing about this issue. I do think that a $300,000 payout to someone deserves some type of explanation. What could be so terrible that having Farina leave warranted this? What's the real story here? FOIL is the right way to go. Thank you Southampton Press!
By Taz (725), East Quogue on Apr 15, 17 12:06 PM
1 member liked this comment
Should have him put in a office by himself and finish out his contract with a super above him. No decision making, but working for his $300,000.
By knitter (1941), Southampton on Apr 15, 17 2:45 PM
1 member liked this comment
think the taxpayers do have a right to know why this event happened and why they paid the consequences in a settlement not disclosed to the taxpayers.
By xtiego (698), bridgehampton on Apr 15, 17 6:03 PM
So, an administrator gunning for his job and an angry ex blackmail a man for some indiscretions that are minor in the grand scheme of things. Everyone knows who the admin and ex are, and yet Farina is made out to be the only bad guy in the whole situation. That enough info for you SlimeAlive? Calling people out but too scared to use your real name? Lol...

And Rickenbacker, fair enough. Point taken.
By Brandon Quinn (191), Hampton Bays on Apr 16, 17 2:53 AM
1 member liked this comment
Yes that was enough for me....to confirm you don't know either. Still perpetually angry flunkie of the press.
By SlimeAlive (1181), Southampton on Apr 16, 17 6:26 AM
Lol! You need to ask the judges for both the definition, and the spelling, of flunky.
By Brandon Quinn (191), Hampton Bays on Apr 17, 17 12:10 AM
Variants of Flunky..
Flunkey or Flunkie
By Sturgis (611), Southampton on Apr 17, 17 8:10 AM
So because people misspell it so often, using the base of the plural flunkies, we have to accept something that's wrong as a "variant" of the facts? Seems to fit today's world all too well...
By Brandon Quinn (191), Hampton Bays on Apr 17, 17 9:24 AM
What fits all too well is concentrating on the hole and not the donut, as you did with my accurate post.

This is the bottom line. Taxpayers' hard earned cash is confiscated under the guise of educating children, not paying homeless ones to go away with no explanation.

While you're free to comment away, the fact that you have neither a home nor children handicaps your ability to relate.
By SlimeAlive (1181), Southampton on Apr 17, 17 11:12 AM
ahhhh. and still though it wasn't Farina who created or caused any of the issues that you're worried about.
By adlkjd923ilifmac.aladfksdurwp (747), southampton on Apr 17, 17 1:06 PM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By SlimeAlive (1181), Southampton on Apr 18, 17 4:49 AM
ABC Inc vs. Superintendent - Is there a difference?

You hire a company ABC Inc. (Superintendent) to work for you at your house (school).

You pay the company $10,000 (Superintendent $300,000) .

ABC Inc. (Superintendent) violates a town (board of education) policy
and quits, gets fired, forced to resign, ..., going to Disneyland, ...

You still have to pay ABC Inc. (superintendent) another $10,000 ($300,000)

The town (Board of Education) will not let ...more
By A_Concerned_Parent (37), manorville on Apr 18, 17 5:16 PM
1 member liked this comment
Dumb analogy on a number of points. Superintendent is not a company, he is an employee. The school is not your house, it is an entity of collective ownership of the neighborhood. The employee had a contract to perform in that entity, and no one is saying he didn't perform well in that capacity. The issue the entity had was with embarrassing information related to the employee, which did not occur on the entity's time or in the employee's position. But it was embarrassing enough that the representatives ...more
By Rickenbacker (257), Southampton on Apr 18, 17 6:41 PM
Sure Brickbacker - it is amazing how you know everything. The fact of the matter is another administrator gets a free ride, wait, a $300,000 ride for violating board policies. Worst is, this money takes away from student resources. So go strum that guitar of yours on how wonderful this corrupt system is.
By A_Concerned_Parent (37), manorville on Apr 19, 17 9:00 PM
Do you have anything that says he did violate board policies or are you just guessing on that? If he did, why did the district pay him out? The only way I can get my thinking to agree with you is to maybe think the district felt they would be open to a lawsuit from Farina that would cost taxpayers even more money and they chose the lesser of two evils. I have enough faith in the district board to think they wouldn't just politely ask him to go and, oh, by the way, here's this $300k parting gift. ...more
By Rickenbacker (257), Southampton on Apr 23, 17 11:26 AM
Wow Rickenbacker you think in your infamous wisdom that taxpayers should just swallow a 300k check, and make believe it didn't happen. You even think the courts can't get it right. Only you know whats right am I correct? When you start paying my taxes then, and only then will I except such nonsense from a school board. As far as I'm concerned that was a theft of 300k, and the press deserves an award for stepping up, and fighting for answers like real journalist do.
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Apr 19, 17 12:34 AM
1 member liked this comment
No, I think I've been clear saying I don't know what actually happened. And I sort of agree that because of they way the board had to deal with this situation, from a taxpayer perspective, it is sort of like theft. My point is that I don't think we will ever get the actual information that led to the resignation and payout, that either the court will deny public disclosure of the incident or so heavily redact it you won't be able to read between the lines. Especially if the incident that started ...more
By Rickenbacker (257), Southampton on Apr 23, 17 11:21 AM
It was a while back but the nation was founded because the brave souls who sailed here were tired of taxation without representation. You can't waste our tax dollars without disclosing why.

By SlimeAlive (1181), Southampton on Apr 19, 17 6:53 AM
What about, for 5 months the PPS director was collecting a salary, from home, while we were paying for 2 different interims? If you add all of this up it comes down to almost the same amount that Farina was paid.
By alsoaconcernedparent (1), Southampton on Apr 19, 17 8:34 PM
About time this district comes forth with the TRUTH.Sadly , it took a lawsuit to make them somewhat transparent . The entire Board need be replaced .Southampton has more chaos recently with their administrators than necessary
I blame this on a pro-activist Out of control Board of Lefties .
By carsrus (65), Hampton Bays on Apr 20, 17 4:30 PM
Is the position of Superintendent even necessary? I find it hard to believe that whatever he or she does is worth $ 300K per year.
By bigfresh (4666), north sea on Apr 23, 17 7:04 AM
1 member liked this comment