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Betty Cross files suit over removal from Hempstead school board

Betty Cross, then the president of the Hempstead

Betty Cross, then the president of the Hempstead School Board, adjourns the board's meeting on the evening of June 23, 2014. Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

Betty Cross, who spent more than 30 years on the Hempstead school board ending in July, is suing state Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. for removing her from the post this past summer.

The lawsuit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York, said King had no right to remove an elected board member, except after a due-process hearing in which it was found that the trustee "engaged in unlawful and willful misconduct resulting in a detriment to the school district."

None of that was the case, according to Cross' attorney; she was never given notice of alleged misconduct, nor was she provided a hearing. By removing her, the lawsuit said, the commissioner defamed Cross and "caused her to suffer public shame, humiliation and embarrassment."

A spokeswoman from King's office said Monday the department does not comment on pending litigation.

Cross, who first joined the school board in 1978 and served for most of the next three decades, is suing for injunctive relief, compensatory damages and lawyer's fees. Her attorney, John Ryan of Floral Park, said Monday he was not sure if she wanted to be reinstated; she has said she will run for the school board again in 2015.

King, who earlier this month accepted a job with the U.S. Department of Education as senior adviser to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, ordered Cross to step down in July while he investigated allegations of voter fraud and misuse of absentee ballots in the May 20 election.

In August, King called for a new election to be held in October.

Maribel Touré, the newcomer who challenged Cross in the May election, won that race. Cross' lawsuit said King's actions "preordained the outcome of his so-called newly ordered 'election,' " causing her to lose.

It was Touré and her attorney, Frederick K. Brewington of Hempstead, who had initially appealed to King in June after Touré was found by the school board to have lost the May election when scores of contested absentee ballots were counted.

"Everybody has a right to try and seek what they think they are entitled to," Brewington said of Cross' lawsuit. "She is raising issues about the right of a seated commissioner of education to do exactly what the commissioner of education is supposed to do -- and the court is going to have to evaluate that."

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