January 27, 2012
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Judge rejects city’s motion to dismiss parents’ group’s lawsuit

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NEWARK – A Superior Court judge today ordered a lawsuit to proceed against the City of Newark (151k PDF) over documents related to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million donation for the city’s schools, and ordered the city to produce a list of the documents in its possession. Judge Rachel N. Davidson denied a motion by the city to dismiss the complaint, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (2.1mb PDF) (ACLU-NJ) on behalf of the Secondary Parent Council (SPC), a group of Newark parents and grandparents seeking more transparency about the Zuckerberg donation.

“Newark’s arguments to skirt New Jersey’s public disclosure laws (1.5mb PDF) simply haven’t added up from the start – that’s just one reason why this lawsuit is going forward today,” said Frank Corrado, an attorney with Barry, Corrado, Grassi & Gibson as well as the president of the ACLU-NJ Board of Trustees, who represents SPC on the ACLU-NJ's behalf. “When Mayor Booker accepted this generous offer to help transform Newark’s schools, he emphasized the role the public would play in the process. Instead they have been denied basic requests for public documents.”

The city has argued it does not have any documents, but that even if it did, they would be shielded by mayoral executive privilege, which does not exist in New Jersey. During a hearing on the motion to dismiss the case today, Judge Davidson said she found it hard to believe the city did not possess any records related to the September 2010 donation.

“It’s a little difficult to believe that after Mr. Zuckerberg pledged $100 million to the Newark Schools that the City of Newark would not have a document,” said Judge Davidson.

Michael Witt, the attorney representing the city, acknowledged that the city has some documents, which he believed would comprise roughly 50 pages of emails. The judge ordered the city to provide a log with a description of those emails by Feb. 10, 2011.

The judge’s ruling today brings Newark parents one step closer to a better understanding of the details of the donation, which was intended to transform Newark schools. Despite numerous requests for more detailed records since the announcement of the gift in September 2010, the City of Newark has released only general information about the use and sources of the funding rather than the complete body of information the public is entitled to under law.

“As parents and grandparents, we simply want to fully understand the impact of this gift on our children and get a better grasp on this aspect of their education,” said Laura Baker of the Secondary Parent Council. “Refusing to share details the public deserves to know sends a message that outside funders have more insight into the Newark Public Schools than the community members who have a stake in the process.”

The case is captioned Secondary Parent Council v. Newark.

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