An administrative law judge ruled in favor of school board member Emanuel Capers on Monday clearing him of ethics violations.
Capers had been taken up on ethics charges by former Paterson school district security director James Smith over his all-expense paid trip to Arizona. Smith alleged Capers violated three separate parts of the Code of Ethics for School Board Members by going on the trip fully paid for by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak’s education company Woz U.
“There was no testimony or evidence that Capers made any personal promises to anyone connected to Woz U. Capers going to the all-expense-paid seminar in Arizona could have been done to get a clearer understanding of the programs that Woz U offered,” wrote administrative law court judge Kimberly A. Moss. “Woz U was not a vendor of the Board at the time of the seminar. Capers going to the seminar did not compromise the Board. There was no testimony or evidence that Capers attempted to sway the other Board members to vote on a resolution to have Woz U become a vendor for the District.”
Moss dismissed all three charges — C, E, and F in the Code of Ethics – against Capers.
Capers welcomed the ruling late Monday afternoon.
“I’m glad this is over. It’s a big cloud off of me,” said Capers. Unresolved ethics charges kept him from securing support from his colleagues last January to assume the school board presidency.
Smith had a different take on the judge’s initial decision.
“I have no clue what her rationale was,” said Smith. He pointed out there’s a 13-day period within which he can file what’s called an “exception” with the commissioner of education to reject the judge’s decision. Asked if he decided whether to file an exception, Smith said, “I haven’t made a decision yet.”
Capers attended the Effective Schools Conference from Feb. 20-23, 2018 at the Scottsdale Plaza Resort in Paradise Valley. Before returning from the trip, Capers found himself under investigation by the district.
On Feb. 20, 2018, superintendent Eileen Shafer contacted Smith to determine whether Capers went on an unauthorized trip, according to the decision. Both Shafer and school board president Oshin Castillo directed Smith to investigate.
Capers, elected last month to another three-year term, took aim at some of his rivals.
“This was a set-up, a police frame up report by Smith, orchestrated by now-superintendent of Teaneck schools Christopher Irving and some of my colleagues to dirty my name,” said Capers.
Capers is referring to the investigation report by Smith, a former police captain. He spent much of the past year taking the report apart. Smith also faced a reprimand from Shafer for checking Capers’ voting records as part of his investigation. The judge’s decision states the reprimand was later retracted.
Castillo testified as part of the case that she contacted Irving, former Paterson school board, for guidance on the matter. She had become president a month before the Arizona trip situation developed.
Irving did not respond to a call for comment on Monday evening.
Smith’s investigation report was sent to the School Ethics Commission by Shafer, according to the decision. Shafer told Smith to cooperate if he is contacted by the state. The School Ethics Commission contacted Smith and told him a completed charge form was needed. Smith filled out the charge document, but did not inform the school board or Shafer, according to the decision.
Despite the trip issue, the school board awarded a contract to Woz U in Aug. 2018. Capers recused himself from voting when the vendor was hired by the district for free computer science courses for students in 11 and 12 grades, according to the ruling.
“Going to the all-expense-paid seminar in Arizona and recusing himself on the vote to determine if Woz U would be a vendor to the Board without more evidence is not enough to show that Capers surrendered his independent judgement to anyone,” wrote the judge.
Capers wasn’t the only one offered the all-expense paid trip. Woz U offered four slots for school officials to travel to Arizona to learn more about its coding and drone programs, according to the decision. Shafer told her staff not to go, but Capers ignored her warning and went anyway. Capers has often argued he is not a school district employee, but an elected official. The superintendent serves a subordinate role to the school board.
Capers accused his rivals and opponents of framing and liquidating others who questioned them. “There’s so many district employees I can mention, but I stood toe to toe. I said, ‘No. You’re not going to dirty up my name and you’re not going to frame me up.’”
Smith was fired last May following an investigation by the district. He has threatened to file a $5 million lawsuit for wrongful termination.
At one-point Capers appeared to take away agency or ability to act on his own from Smith by stating he was an instrument used by others to target him.
“This is wrong and I will expose anybody that tries to come after my name,” said Capers.
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