The Board of Education awarded a $45,000 contract last week to a law firm defending suspended board Emanuel Capers in a drawn-out ethics case.
School board members approved the contract for Morristown-based Whipple Azzarello last Wednesday.
The firm has been defending Capers against ethics charges filed by former district security chief James Smith.
Capers had taken an all-expense paid trip to Arizona in February 2018. He was dropped off at the airport by district personnel, but subsequently superintendent Eileen Shafer and then-school board president Oshin Castillo directed Smith to conduct an investigation into the trip.
Smith’s investigation concluded Capers likely violated the Code of Ethics for School Board Members. Smith was later terminated from the district. He has alleged he was wrongfully terminated because of the investigation.
Capers won the case before an administrative law judge. But lost later before the School Ethics Commission which recommended his removal from office. Later, the commissioner of education issued his decision that suspended Capers for six months.
Capers is almost finished serving his suspension term. He is also appealing the commissioner’s decision.
Smith has argued taxpayers should not be funding Capers’ appeal. But Capers has said the appeal is a continuation of the ethics case and should be funded by the district. He said he is trying to clear his name.
If he loses the case, Capers could be on the hook for the district’s legal expenditures in the case. From 2018 to 2020, the district incurred $30,000 in legal expenses in the case.
The latest contract is to continue Capers’ appeal.
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