State Supreme Court Justice Diane Y. Devlin on Wednesday ordered the Hamburg Central School Board to allow the public into the misconduct hearing that could result in the removal of a board member.
Keeping the hearing closed “would result in irreparable damage to the plaintiff, and more importantly to the community’s right to have open meetings of elected officials,” Devlin said from the bench.
Board Member Catherine Schrauth Forcucci said when official misconduct charges were filed against her weeks ago that she wanted them aired before the public, but the School Board decided to hold the hearing in secret. Three sessions have been conducted, and several more dates have been designated.
Schrauth Forcucci was successful last week in winning a temporary restraining order until the issue could be argued in court today. After Wednesday’s arguments, Devlin issued a preliminary injunction requiring the hearing to go on in front of the public.
The School Board had locked the public and the media out of the conference room where the hearing was being held and had them escorted from the Hamburg Administration Building, which also was locked during the hearing.
Andrew J. Freedman, the attorney for the district, said the district is interested in moving the hearing along, but he would not discuss whether the district might appeal Devlin’s order.
“The board looks forward to concluding this hearing as quickly and as expeditiously as possible, and have a decision reached on the merits,” Freedman said.
“Elected officials need to be accountable for their conduct,” said Margaret Murphy, who is Schrauth Forcucci’s lawyer. “That means not only the elected officials brought up on charges of misconduct, but also the people who are going to pass on those charges.”
Another hearing date had been scheduled at 6 p.m. Wednesday but it was not held.
The board held a 2 1/2-hour executive session Wednesday evening to discuss the ruling, excluding the public and media.