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Sep 11, 2018 5:11 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Southampton Schools Ordered To Release Bulk Of Farina Investigation Material

Scott Farina
Sep 12, 2018 10:14 AM

A State Supreme Court justice has ordered the Southampton School District to turn over nearly all documents related to the investigation of former Superintendent Dr. Scott Farina to the Press News Group, in a September 4 ruling in a lawsuit filed two years ago by the newspaper company.

Justice David T. Reilly gave the district 30 days to turn over all of the materials, with the exception of the results of a final “Report and Findings” investigation that was conducted by an investigator from the law firm of Jaspan Schlesinger LLP, whom the district hired.

The Press News Group, represented by media law attorney Rachel F. Strom of the Manhattan-based law firm Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, filed a lawsuit in August 2016 arguing that the materials were subject to the state’s Freedom of Information Law. The Southampton Association is sharing the cost of the lawsuit; an earlier ruling in the case noted that the school district will not be required to cover the plaintiff’s legal fees and court costs.

Justice Reilly conducted a private inspection of the material related to Dr. Farina’s investigation and determined that most of the documents related to the investigation should be made public, based on FOIL, with any students’ names and information redacted. “These documents may provide insight into the matters being investigated and … should be disclosed,” he ruled.

But the findings of the internal investigation into allegations brought against Dr. Farina will not be released.

“It is clear from a reading of the report that the investigator reported his findings after completing a series of interviews, however, neither the witnesses nor the subject(s) of the report were subject to cross-examination,” Justice Reilly said in the decision, referring to the final report including the findings. “The findings of the investigation, in this court’s view, are informed opinions that may have guided the Board of Education in severing its relationship with the Superintendent of Schools, but nevertheless remain exempt from disclosure so as to protect the privacy of rights of the individuals mentioned.”

“It is good to know we are getting almost everything we asked for, except the final report and findings,” Ms. Strom said on Tuesday. “I would say it’s a partial win.”

The publishers of The Southampton Press, The East Hampton Press and the website 27east.com asked the court to compel the school district to release the results of an investigation—paid for with taxpayer dollars—of Dr. Farina, which was conducted earlier that year. The investigation eventually led to Dr. Farina’s resignation from the district and a $300,000 payout as part of a settlement agreement.

In the lawsuit, The Press argued that the information being sought “unquestionably [involve] matters of significant public concern” and led to Dr. Farina’s decision to resign. It noted that the district’s “blanket refusal” to provide any information violated FOIL. “The significant public interest in such information … overwhelms any possible privacy interests here,” The Press News Group’s attorneys argued.

“I consider it a win—for the public,” Executive Editor Joseph P. Shaw said on Tuesday. “We are going to see more of the information than we would have before the judge’s ruling. I think that’s a victory for access to public information, and I’m pleased that the court agreed, largely.”

In a statement posted on the district’s website, the Board of Education said it was pleased with the decision because it protects the privacy rights of its students and staff members by not disclosing the internal investigative report.

“While the court has required the district to provide specific documentation, redacted of students’ identifying information, the district is confident that the privacy of our students and staff will remain intact,” the statement read. “The district will continue to protect the rights of its students and staff when pertaining to the public disclosure of sensitive information, while remaining conscious of its commitment to be transparent with its community.”

The statement continued, saying, “It is our hope that this judgment marks the official end of that period in our history for our community at large.”

Dr. Nicholas Dyno, the superintendent, would not say whether the district plans to file an appeal, because he has not discussed the option with members of the School Board. He said he expects the topic to be discussed behind closed doors in an executive session, because it pertains to litigation, at the board’s next meeting.

If the district does not choose to appeal, Dr. Dyno said, the documents would need to be redacted and reviewed by the district’s attorneys before being handed over to The Press within 30 days of the September 4 ruling.

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This is going to be great. The district wasted 300k of taxpayers money. You will finally see how clueless the board is.
By chief1 (2551), southampton on Sep 11, 18 6:02 PM
1 member liked this comment
Bonzo Goes Surfing
By SlimeAlive (1015), Southampton on Sep 11, 18 6:40 PM
There is justice perhaps. The schools shouldn't be policing themselves with their bloated salaries and golden parachutes. Taxes are way too high with most of it going to them.
By lirider (251), Hampton Bays on Sep 11, 18 11:37 PM
Much as I appreciate the power of the FOIA process and the Press's attempt to fight for the right to the information (I think this part of the suit was a worthwhile effort), I think it still remains that as a contractual matter, the Press did not get what it was after. It's going to get some crumbs, but not the actual final investigative report or any identifiers of the people involved. So, you do get to affirm that FOIA requests need to be taken seriously, but you also did not get to probe into ...more
By Rickenbacker (245), Southampton on Sep 12, 18 8:11 AM
The article clearly states: "an earlier ruling in the case noted that the school district will not be required to cover the plaintiff’s legal fees and court costs."
By Arnold Timer (306), Sag Harbor on Sep 12, 18 6:49 PM
I may have missed it, but the article was also updated after I posted that comment.
By Rickenbacker (245), Southampton on Sep 13, 18 12:41 AM
Lol, can't wait for even more confirmation that Farina was actually a victim
By adlkjd923ilifmac.aladfksdurwp (580), southampton on Sep 12, 18 9:36 AM
1 member liked this comment
We just want to know the juicy stuff. How long was he living in his car and which students was he dating and what was the $300k hush money for.
By SlimeAlive (1015), Southampton on Sep 13, 18 6:58 AM
Time to change the terms of ALL school district employees and eliminate this kind of scam! It’s our money being thrown around and we should have the right to know why
By bigfresh (3851), north sea on Sep 13, 18 9:08 AM
1 member liked this comment
What else is the school board hiding???
By knitter (1506), Southampton on Sep 13, 18 2:24 PM
They are hiding why it takes $44000 a student to educate. The academics at the school are mediocre at best and the school board only wants to build a administrative building
By chief1 (2551), southampton on Sep 13, 18 9:31 PM
Still no update on this story? Huh. Maybe, justtttt maybe, Farina, while wreckless, was actually a victim here? I’ve said it a million times. If he was a woman, the whole town would’ve been up in arms defending him.
By Brandon Quinn (161), Hampton Bays on Sep 23, 18 6:48 PM