Superintendent Lawsuit Hearings Complete Testimony
Judge's decision could come by summer, but the embattled schools chief says he expects the issue to continue for a long time.
Months after it quietly began last September, the hearing to decide the validity of Parsippany's Superintendent of Schools LeRoy Seitz's contract with the school district is finally over.
On Tuesday, in the final day of the oft-delayed hearing at the Office of Administrative Law in Newark, dramatic testimony was offered that, if found credible by the judge, could swing the case in Seitz's favor.
Then again, it may not.
"It's a very complicated case," the superintendent told Patch.
Seitz took legal action against the BOE, the state Department of Education and former County Executive Superintendent Kathleen Serafino over the board's rescinding of a five-year contract struck in November 2010. Under the pact, which Seitz said was approved by Serafino, he would have been paid $212,000. That same month, Gov. Christie announced his plan to impose a cap on superintendent salaries, and publicly labeled Seitz the "poster boy of greed."
Serafino stated that she never approved the contract. The cap went into effect in February 2011.
Using threats to withhold $3.6 million in state aid, the Department of Education forced the school board to rescind the agreement, spurring Seitz to file suit.
On Tuesday, the final day of testimony offered incendiary testimony from Ralph Goodwin, the former business administrator for Serafino's office.
"He testified that he was in a meeting with Dr. Serafino and two attorneys represeting the DOE from the attorney general's office," the superintendent said. "[Goodwin] said Dr. Serafino took two documents from the Parsippany-Troy Hills school district files which contained my contract, tore them into small pieces, put them into her pocket and took them with her.
"The interesting thing," Seitz continued, "is when Dr. Serafino and the two attorneys were questioned by the judge, they all three responded, 'I don't recall.'"
Seitz said what the documents were could not be determined, but that two documents had been contested throughout the administrative law hearing. One was a five-year spreadsheet that broke down the dollar figure he would be paid each year during the contract.
"Dr. Serafino alleged she had never received it, and Mr. Goodwin testified that he gave her a copy of it," he said. "The other [contains the dates] when the contract was approved and when she received a copy of the final contract."
Goodwin testified that he believed the contract was approved at a meeting he attended on Oct. 26, 2010, when he met with Seitz and Serafino to approve the pact, Seitz said. That testimony coincided with the superintendent's previous sworn statement that Serafino had okayed the agreement "long before her [Nov. 15] memo putting an end to the contract."
Seitz said Goodwin also sent an email to the Parsippany school district indicating that he needed a final copy of the pact so that Serafino could issue a final letter of approval upon her return from vacation.
"That was entered into the record and was not disputed," the superintendent added.
"From my perspective, an allegation that a county superintendent who works for the DOE would knowingly destroy documents and that two attorneys from the AG's office were present when that occurred... If that were to be true I would find it highly disturbing."
Seitz said the judge made comments at the hearing Tuesday that he would focus his research and review of the trial on the events that took place at the Oct. 26, 2010, meeting and the credibility of the witnesses.
Goodwin was the last witness to testify in the case. Closing arguments are expected to be presented by attorneys in March, and a final ruling by Administrative Law Judge J. Howard Solomon could be made public by June or July.
The case then goes to Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf, who will make a final decision, which can be appealed.
"It's a long, complicated case," said Seitz, who said the outcome might go either way.
Should he prevail, he said several things could happen—his rescinded contract could be restored to cover five years, a rollover five-year contract of the pre-November 2010 pact could be executed (Seitz said the state Supreme Court may consider whether the salary stated in that would remain in place) or, perhaps, something else altogether.
"There are so many subtleties and so many questions that the judge has to determine that at this point, we're just going through the process," he said.
Asked about the possibility of a settlement, the superintendent said it is possible, but that none has been offered at this time.