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Schools' lawyer resigns / Vignola abruptly quits after chancellor voices his support of actions in scandal that led to Lam firing

In a quick turnaround, the city Department of Education's

top lawyer quit yesterday - barely a day after Chancellor Joel Klein defended

the attorney's actions in a nepotism furor.

Chad Vignola, the general counsel held over from the former Board of

Education, submitted a letter saying he'd leave rather than "create more

needless distraction" for the school system.

A report by Richard Condon, the investigation commissioner for the school

system, last week said that at Vignola's direction, the department announced an

improper hiring had not taken place when it had.

In dissecting that hiring, the report said Deputy Commissioner Diana Lam

twice pushed to get her husband, Peter Plattes, hired in the system without the

proper ethics clearance or credentials.

On Tuesday, after firing Lam, Klein suggested there was no reason to

penalize Vignola, who as far as he knew advised Lam to follow procedures.

But Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who hired Klein to run the mammoth school

system in 2002, yesterday was not echoing that sentiment. "Any discussions we

have will be done in privacy at the Department of Education where they should

be," Bloomberg said.

Hours later, without prior announcement, Vignola's resignation letter was

released at the Tweed building, Department of Education headquarters. In it,

Vignola said, "I cannot allow a lack of public confidence to undercut the vital

reform efforts currently under way."

In his own missive, Klein said he accepted the resignation "with sadness"

and that, at his request, Vignola agreed to stay on through next month. No

successor has been named.

Aides to the mayor insisted last night that Vignola had not been forced out

but volunteered to resign.

Several educators and parents had privately questioned why Vignola hadn't

been fired over his role in the Lam scandal.

Randi Weingarten, head of the teachers union, said the resignation was

"inevitable" and called on Bloomberg to probe what got the Department of

Education into the mess, resolve questions remaining in the scandal and set up

checks and balances to prevent further abuse.

As the department's chief attorney, Vignola was key in helping the

chancellor practically dismantle the system of 32 school districts and also to

recently take away school boards' zoning power.

Vignola also had his supporters. "In terms of my relationship with him,

he's always been honest and forthcoming - even if it was something I didn't

like," said Robin Brown, head of the United Parent Associations of New York

City.

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