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Hempstead board seeks to recoup attorneys' fees against superintendent

Hempstead schools Superintendent Shimon Waronker is on paid

Hempstead schools Superintendent Shimon Waronker is on paid administrative leave, but has been fighting the accusations. The district is seeks to recoup attorneys' fees it spent in the lawsuit he filed. Credit: Newsday / Steve Pfost

The Hempstead school board, after a federal judge last week dismissed Superintendent Shimon Waronker’s lawsuit against the district, is seeking to recoup money it spent on attorneys' fees.

Attorneys for the nearly 8,000-student system this week called for a conference with U.S. District Court Judge Denis Hurley and Waronker’s attorneys to discuss the board's attempt to recover costs related to the yearlong court battle. A conference call on the matter is scheduled for Feb. 5, according to court documents.

Jonathan Scher, the Carle Place attorney representing the district and board, said the cost to the district is still being calculated, but described the dollar amount  as “sizable.”

“The Board of Education has a fiduciary responsibility to protect the interest of our community, the taxpayers and our students, short term as well as long term,” board president LaMont Johnson, who was named in the lawsuit, said in a statement.

It is the board’s hope that “this proceeding will send a strong message that the [district] will not stand for desperate and frivolous attempts to divert our financial resources from the classroom to the courtroom,” Johnson said.

Waronker's Hempstead-based lawyer, Frederick K. Brewington, said it’s “not appropriate” that the district request attorneys' fees.

A year ago, Waronker filed a lawsuit in federal court in Central Islip against three members of the board, the district and the district clerk, challenging the board’s Jan. 9, 2018, vote placing him on paid administrative leave while it investigated his actions as schools chief.

Among Waronker’s allegations were that he was being punished for speaking out on corruption and mismanagement in the district and his contract was breached.

Hurley last week granted the district’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit, ruling his rights had not been violated and that his contract had not been breached.

The district continues to pay Waronker his $265,000 annual base salary and benefits while it moves forward with labor action against him.

The Scher Law Firm on Monday in a letter to Hurley asked that the district be reimbursed for attorneys' fees, as the prevailing party, claiming Waronker continued with litigation after it “became clear that his claims were groundless.”

The board, in an internal labor action in August, brought extensive charges against him, including misconduct, bid-rigging and sham hiring. In October, the board filed amended charges, which have not been made public. Brewington, who released the August charges against his client, has called them “false and contrived to mask the real issues that Dr. Waronker was in the process of helping the district solve."

Waronker and Brewington at a Jan. 9 news conference said they were fighting for Waronker to be reinstated and again strongly disputed the accusations. They also pointed to the amount of money the district had spent on attorneys' fees, providing members of the media with 15 pages of billing records showing nearly $818,000 paid by the district to the Scher Law Firm between February and October 2018. Brewington said the documents were procured by a resident under the Freedom of Information Law. Some of the records show Waronker's name and billed amounts, but it was unclear how much of the total was used for work related to Waronker's case.

“It is a crime that the dollar amount is being utilized for the purposes of trying to destroy a man’s reputation that did nothing but come forward and say ‘I want to help,’ ” Brewington had said.

Scher on Wednesday said the district “should not have paid that money." Brewington “caused the district to spend it. He should be prepared to reimburse the district," he said. 

Under his contract, Waronker is entitled to a hearing on the labor charges. The case is proceeding, and the next conference is scheduled for Feb. 1, Scher said last week.

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