The Hempstead school district Thursday accused a lawyer who was representing two board candidates of "fraudulent misconduct" and disruptions that led to the suspension of ballot counting in Tuesday night's budget and board vote.
Monte Malik Chandler, one of the attorneys for Hempstead schools, vowed the district would pursue sanctions against Keith M. Corbett, of the Harris Beach firm in Uniondale, with the state Supreme Court, an ethics committee and the state bar association.
Corbett was representing candidates Maribel Toure and Gwendolyn Jackson, who ran as a team on Tuesday night.
Chandler said Corbett "created disruption and a somewhat intimidating environment" by raising concerns about absentee ballots loudly at about 8:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Alverta B. Gray Schultz Middle School polling site, while voting was still in progress. "Our election process this week was stained or even saturated with numerous incidents of misconduct, intimidation, electioneering and fraud," Chandler said during an afternoon news conference at Hempstead High School.
Disputing the district
Corbett said the district's allegations were "unsubstantiated" and "completely false."
"There was no electioneering and no attempt to sway the voters," he said Thursday. "I properly advocated for my clients' rights as permissible under the laws of the State of New York."
On Wednesday afternoon, when ballot counting resumed, Toure and Jackson were the top vote-getters among seven candidates for two board seats.
After the results were announced, however, the school board voted to decertify the results of the vote on the board seats. The trustees also authorized the district's lawyers to take legal action against any parties involved in any election fraud and agreed to ask the education commissioner to order a new vote for the two board seats.
The State Education Department said it would not comment on the board's actions and related allegations because the matter may be considered by the agency's commissioner.
Jay Worona, deputy executive director and general counsel of the New York State School Boards Association, said, "Once a result has been declared, the only person who can overturn results would be the commissioner of education. In order for a petition to be successful, they would have to demonstrate irregularities" without which "the result would have been different."
Hempstead attorney Frederick K. Brewington said yesterday that Corbett was volunteering for the campaigns of Toure and Jackson on Tuesday night. Brewington was out of state Tuesday.
At the news conference, Chandler also accused Corbett of misrepresentation for saying that he was in the process of obtaining a court order from a state Supreme Court justice.
Corbett denied Chandler's claims. He and Brewington said the actions Tuesday night did not create disruptions or affect the outcome of the vote.
Daniel Bagnuola, a State Supreme Court spokesman, said Thursday that both sides had conversations by telephone Tuesday night with Chief Clerk Kathryn Hopkins and "agreed to wait until the morning [Wednesday morning] to file the papers" in court.
Hopkins could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Both Corbett and Chandler said there was an agreement Tuesday night, after talking to the chief clerk, on halting the ballot count. However, Chandler said Thursday that the district agreed only because officials believed a judge's order was forthcoming.
"We never received an order," Chandler said.
Election materials saved
Wednesday afternoon, Supreme Court Justice Arthur M. Diamond considered a separate request from Brewington to preserve all ballots, envelopes, notes, records and other election-related materials. Diamond granted that request.
Thursday, Toure said she would not comment on the legal issues. She said she and Jackson won the two seats. Jackson could not be reached.
"The numbers are the numbers," Toure said. "No one was stopped from voting."
Under Education Department guidelines, the commissioner decides petitions based on law and interpretation from previous decisions, taking into consideration documents presented as part of the record.
Education law, as summarized by the New York State School Boards Association and the New York State Bar Association, says the burden of proof rests on the entity or person who challenges vote results to establish facts that would justify invalidating results.