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Judge says Hempstead school trustee’s hearing can continue Friday

Hempstead school board member LaMont Johnson during a

Hempstead school board member LaMont Johnson during a special meeting on Monday, June 19, 2017, at Hempstead High School. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

A state Supreme Court justice on Thursday lifted a restraining order that caused a halt in the Hempstead school board’s ongoing hearing on whether trustee LaMont Johnson violated district rules and should be removed from the five-member panel.

The decision means the hearing — held on four days over the past two weeks — could resume Friday. The school board has set a special meeting at 9:45 a.m. at Hempstead High School.

Johnson’s health had been cited Wednesday by one of his lawyers as the reason for stopping the hearing.

Thursday, Justice Anna R. Anzalone ruled that the board hearing should continue. If Johnson cannot attend because he is too sick, she said, he can take part by phone while in the hospital or at home.

“The court hereby lifts the stay imposed by Judge Karen Murphy on June 28,” Anzalone said in her Mineola courtroom after hearing arguments by Johnson’s attorney, Donald Vernon of Jamaica, and the school district’s attorneys, Ethan Irwin and Anthony Colleluori, both of Mineola.

The attorneys sparred over the severity of Johnson’s condition, with Vernon arguing the hearing should be postponed at least until Monday because Johnson’s cardiologist provided a sworn statement attesting to a severe health issue.

But Irwin said the same physician and an electrocardiogram test did not indicate that Johnson’s condition was dire enough to stall the process.

“If Mr. Johnson finishes his testing today, if he gets out of the hospital tonight or tomorrow morning, and there is a continuation of the hearing tomorrow, he can participate in person,” Anzalone said. “If he remains in the hospital or at home on bed rest, he can participate by telephonic means.”

Both sides’ attorneys left Anzalone’s courtroom without making statements.

If the hearing resumes Friday, it will occur on the last day of the current board’s membership. The term of trustee Melissa Figueroa expires Friday, and trustee-elect Randy Stith — who defeated Figueroa in the May 16 election — officially takes the seat on Saturday.

That development could shift the panel’s voting majority. Under the board’s current configuration, Figueroa, board president Maribel Touré and trustee Gwendolyn Jackson have tended to vote as a bloc, while Johnson and trustee David Gates often have voted together.

The board ordered the hearing seeking Johnson’s removal in a June 8 resolution that passed on a 3-2 vote, with Figueroa, Touré and Jackson as the majority. It accused Johnson of improper conduct for allegedly revealing a list of Hempstead district employees and their addresses in violation of district rules.

Johnson has denied the allegations.

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