Board OKs district’s appeal of News suit

LEGAL New Castle school district solicitor Charles Sapienza receives board approval to appeal the verdict in a case involving the New Castle News.


The New Castle school district will file an appeal in its court case with the New Castle News.

The decision was made during an executive session Monday night after the board’s monthly work session, according to a district official. However, no public vote was taken on continuing the litigation process. Solicitor Charles Sapienza said after Wednesday night’s board meeting that he could not discuss the matter.

The school board also has instructed Sapienza to postpone a meeting on Monday with News attorney James Manolis involving negotiations related to the release of a report prepared for the district by attorney Richard Harper.

“I’m not interested in spending any more money,” said board member Philip Conti, who wants the district to end further legal action.

The dispute with The News is the result of a September 2004 lawsuit involving the district and two families over the district’s uniform policy. While a settlement was eventually reached, neither party would provide details to the public. U.S. District Judge Arthur J. Schwab ordered the agreement sealed.

Citing Pennsylvania’s Right to Know Law, News publisher Max Thomson sought details of the settlement. Schwab ordered the seal lifted and The News then sought to recoup its attorney’s fees.

Common Pleas Judge Michael Wherry ruled in favor of The News. In addition to the attorney’s fees — which are approximately $8,700 — the district was ordered to pay court costs of about $200.

The district will not use its liability coverage as its appeal heads to Commonwealth Court. Business manager Joseph Ambrosini said that if the district loses the appeal, the attorney’s fees and court costs owed to The News would be paid by the district.

The district’s insurance carrier, the Pennsylvania School Boards Association Insurance Trust, advised Ambrosini the district would be charged with a $10,000 deductible if it filed a claim. In addition, the carrier would pay only for an attorney, one of its choosing, to represent the school system. Attorney’s fees and court costs are not covered.

To date, Sapienza has represented the district in the case.

Conti said the district shouldn’t have sealed the uniform settlement initially.

“As a taxpayer, I want to know how my money is spent.”

In contrast to the district’s legal battle with The News involving the uniform lawsuit, the two sides have been talking about releasing Harper’s report.

In March 2004, the district hired Harper to conduct an investigation. That action was in response to criticism leveled against the district in two state audits released in 2003 and 2004.

In its findings, the state outlined problems with the district’s handling of capital improvement fund money, erroneous student transportation data, attendance of district officials at a national convention, the purchase of food from a business owned by Assistant Superintendent Nicholas DeRosa, and the disclosure of DeRosa’s personal financial interests.

That report — presented to the district more than a year ago — has never been publicly released or its recommendations acted upon by the board.

“Mr. DeRosa has objected to any review of the document in question,” Sapienza wrote to Manolis yesterday. “The board, however, continues to be willing to explore a potential resolution to this matter.”

Sapienza noted the district and The News are working to avoid litigation.

“Understanding the district’s desire to withhold opinions that might be construed as attorney-client communications,” Thomson said, “we are pleased by the school district’s willingness to work with us to give the public the facts set out in attorney Harper’s report.”

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