June 15, 2024
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Appeals Court Rejects Bid to Bar ZOA Attorney From Clifton School Board Case

A state appeals court quickly rejected the attempt to keep the director of the Zionist Organization of America’s Center for Law and Justice from joining as co-counsel in a case involving two Clifton Board of Education commissioners who allegedly made antisemitic statements at board meetings.

Appellate Court Judge Clarkson S. Fisher Jr. on April 11 approved the pro hac vice request, a special one-time admission to practice in New Jersey, for Susan Tuchman to join Jeffrey Schreiber as co-counsel in an appeal of the New Jersey School Ethics Commission’s failure to hear the complaint against the commissioners.

“This was the expected result,” said Schreiber, a partner in the East Brunswick office of the law firm of Meister Seelig & Fein, who is handling the appeal pro bono.

“It’s routine and virtually never opposed [by attorneys] and is denied even less often when it is opposed,” he explained. “I’m happy the Appellate Division did the right thing and did not exclude the ZOA from advocating in the appeal in this case. They shouldn’t have opposed it in the first place, so the court made short work of our motion to have Susan included.”

Tuchman, who is a member of the bar in New York and Massachusetts, said: “We at the ZOA are pleased that the court granted the pro hac vice motion. I’m looking forward to working with my co-counsel, Jeff Schreiber, on the appeal.”

The objection to Tuchman joining as co-counsel was filed by Stephen R. Fogarty and Rodney T. Hara, the Fair Lawn attorneys representing Ferris Awaad and Fahim K. Abedrabbo, Palestinian-American board members who at a May 20, 2021 meeting accused Israel of ethnic cleansing and apartheid and compared its treatment of Palestinians to the killing of George Floyd.

Fogarty and Hara had asserted in their motion that Schreiber‘s request made no mention of a prior relationship with Tuchman, had not demonstrated there were no local attorneys with expertise in New Jersey school law and that she had no particular expertise in New Jersey law or in the state School Ethics Act.

The original complaint against Awaad and Abedrabbo was filed by Elisabeth Schwartz, a former member of the Englewood Board of Education.

The ZOA became involved in the case following the school ethics commission’s January 25 decision to decline to hear the case.

The commission, part of the state Department of Education, had received lengthy certifications and legal briefs submitted by Awaad and Abedrabbo and their attorneys as well as the response to those filings by Schwartz.

In those documents the two sides clashed repeatedly over interpretations of state law and board policy.

Members of the Jewish community had dubbed the commissioners’ statements as “dangerous” and “untruthful” and many believe they crossed the line into antisemitism.

The statements made at the May 2021 meeting sparked two-and-a-half hours of heated public comment, largely on the Middle East situation, at the August 5, 2021 meeting by members of the public on both sides of the matter.

Schwartz also said Awaad’s closing statement at the board meeting, “Free Palestine. Free my people,” which is linked to the Boycott Divestment Sanctions campaign against Israel, is “intensely antisemitic and anti-Israel.”

By Debra Rubin

 

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