Analysis: The Lawrence School Board Lawsuit


lawrenceBy Rabbi Yair Hoffman
It was a ruling that can rightly described as a triumph for truth, justice, and the American way against the forces of bigotry and hate. The suit had alleged violations of the plaintiffs First and Fourteenth Amendment Rights on the part of Lawrence School District #15 and sued under section 1983 of the United States Code that deals with the Civil Rights Act. Section 1983 is the vehicle for enforcing federal constitutional rights against state and local officials and municipalities.

U.S. District Court Judge Joanna Seybert in Central Islip ruled against the plaintiffs’ contention that the board’s decision to close and sell elementary school Number 6 was unconstitutional because Orthodox Jews in the community supported the decision while most other residents did not. Judge Seybert also took it one step further. Finding the suit morally repugnant, she completely dismissed the suit.

“To deny Orthodox Jews these rights simply because, as plaintiffs allege, Orthodox Jews have different opinions from Lawrence’s other residents would be to discriminate against Orthodox Jews because they are Orthodox Jews,” Judge Seybert wrote. “Any such discrimination
would be constitutionally and morally repugnant.”

Nat Lewin esq., a noted constitutional lawyer and scholar agreed wholeheartedly with the decision stating, “District Judge Seybert was plainly correct in rejecting the complaint filed against Orthodox Jewish school-board members’ votes on questions of school-board policy.”

Lewin asked, “Are the plaintiffs in the Lawrence case ready to challenge every Catholic legislator’s vote on abortion legislation? Or every African-American legislator’s vote on civil rights legislation? Presidents John Kennedy and Barack Obama refuted the bigoted assertion that public servants cannot be trusted to look beyond their own faith and own race in determining what is in their constituents’ best interests.”

Ben Brafman esq. also applauded the decision by Judge Seybert. “Not only did the Court correctly apply the law to the facts of this case, Judge Seybert also had the courage and integrity to condemn the inaccurate and offensive characterizations about the Orthodox Jewish Community sprinkled throughout the Plaintiffs’ Complaint,” remarked Mr. Brafman.

Brafman continued, “Having the Court dismiss the Complaint was critical. Equally important however, was the manner in which Judge Seybert methodically exposed the raw prejudice of Plaintiffs who had the ‘chutzpah’ to offer as legal argument, theories which in truth appear to be the product of a fertile but shameful imagination.”

With reasoned calmness, Judge Seybert methodically dissected what seemed to be a complaint laden with unbridled bigotry. In her 38 page decision, Judge Seybert wrote, “In the Court’s own experience, not all individuals who practice Orthodox Judaism have different “wardrobes” or “grooming habits” than individuals of other faiths.” Judge Sebert continued, “Similarly, not all Orthodox Jews have “large nuclear families.” In addition, the Court wishes to note that most of Plaintiffs’ generalizations regarding Orthodox Jews have no relevance to their claims. The alleged facts that most Orthodox Jews send their children to yeshivas and support the Consolidation Plan are arguably relevant. But, among other things, whether Orthodox Jews manifest different “grooming habits” or “wardrobes” than most people is a complete non-sequitur. Given the very real possibility that such generalizations could cause offense, Plaintiffs should have limited their “observations” about Orthodox Jews to germane issues.”

Judge Joanna Seybert was appointed to her position in 1994 after nominations by both Republican President George H.W. Bush and Democratic President William Clinton. She began her career as a trial attorney with the Legal Aid Society and the Office of the Federal Defenders.

Justice Seybert also countered the plaintiff’s theory that a “unified orthodox political agenda” is undermining the education of children in the Lawrence School District. She writes, “Several factors strongly suggest that no such unified “political agenda” exists, including: (1) the Court’s own experience; (2) the indisputable truth that religious believers are not monolithic robots, but rather individuals who may think differently from each other; and (3) the ideological diversity found among the few Orthodox Jews who have entered public life (such as Sen. Joe Lieberman and former Attorney General Michael Mukasey).

Esther Schonfeld, Esq., a founding partner of the firm of Schonfeld & Goldring, LLP based in Cedarhurst, NY, is the author of a legal publication dealing with Section 1983. U.S.C. Section 1983 provides a claim for relief for federally protected rights and was one of the statutes under which the plaintiffs made their claim.

“This is an important decision,” remarked Schonfeld. “While sensitive issues and conflicts often arise between people with diverse affiliations, the Court ardently defended the democratic principles that embody our representative system of government. The founding fathers of this great country created a representative democracy whereby officials are elected by its citizens. Plaintiffs here attempted to deny the voting members of the school district their constitutionally protected rights to elect competent officials who would adequately represent their political beliefs and administer their local government accordingly.”

Schonfeld continues, “The fact is that the defendants here were fairly elected by the registered voters of District 15. A decision in plaintiff’s favor would have undermined the ability of any elected official to make legislative and political decisions that he or she may feel is in the best interest of their constituencies without being subject to the whims of those who disagree, but suffered no harm.

As the Court properly held, everyone, including “Orthodox Jews,” is entitled to Equal Protection of the law and the plaintiff’s true remedy is at the “ballot box” and not the federal court system. It’s a shame so much money and time was wasted when the plaintiff’s here had no legitimate claims.”

Lawrence District Board member Dr. David Sussman commented, “We are all gratified with the decision. I would hope that everyone reads the 38 page decision. It is excellent reading and it refutes every point that was brought up. It shows just how misleading and frivolous the arguments against us were. I hope that we could all move on from here using our resources for the children rather than a continuation of these frivolous lawsuits. The decision was so well-written, it was a reaffirmation of why so many of us go and and fight and die for this country.. Whether you wear a yarmulke or a cross we all have equal rights before the law.”

It should be noted that Dr. Sussman, a school district #15 board member, sends his children to the public school system.

“The dedication of the board members to education is remarkable, continued Dr. Sussman. “Uri Kaufman spends time going through every school building looking at what needs to be fixed and repaired. Nachum Marcus, besides having a huge interest in the special education program, walks to view the athletic events, school plays and concerts. He is intimately part of the system and cares so much.”

Sussman continued, “Dr. Mansdorf is in every building and spends hundreds of hours intensely interested in improving the education in our district. He is very interested in the theatre arts program as is Dr. Forman and myself. He even donated T-shirts to the mentoring program. Solomon Blisko has been involved for well over a decade improving the scores. Michael Hatten is on the excellence committee and constantly comes up with new ideas. Abel Feldhammer has also been involved from the outside and now will join in the improvement effort. I was therefore saddened today when I read the paper and noted one of the plaintiffs in the suit, continues to spread misleading information about the dedication of the board members. He talked about Pre-K bussing and intimated that it was set up for the Orthodox. It is not true now – nor was it true then – Any school within seven miles of the district with five or more children in attendance was eligible. This board cares about our taxpayers.”

The question is now whether those attacking the new board will try towork together for the benefit of all the children in the district.

When asked whether his clients will try to appeal the ruling, the attorney representing the plaintiffs Rob Agostisi of Garden City, responded, “We are going to review it with my clients, and as far as whether my clients will try to appeal the ruling, they will have to
make a determination on that.” If the ruling is appealed by the plaintiffs, it would have to be done in Manhattan’s Second Court of Appeal. Otherwise the suit will not be re-opened.

The Plaintiffs who filed the suit were Tara Incantalupo, Stephen Jackson, Andrew Levey, Stacey Sullivan and Fu-Yun Tag. It was against the Lawrence School District #15, the Board of Ed of Lawrence District #15 and the individual members of the board. The members were Murray Forman, David Sussman, Uri Kaufman, Asher Mansdorf, Michael Hatten, Solomon Blisko and Nahum Marcus.

The author can be reached

{Reprinted from Larry Gordon’s Five Towns Jewish Times/ Newscenter}


  1. Boruch Hashem!! A really fabulous article! Ben Brafman is tell it like it is as usual, the article is as thorough as ever. Yasher koach

  2. Ben Brafman omitted several key points about why the law suit was introduced in the first place!

    Discrimination and Bigotry!!!!! Discrimination and Bigotry that the Orthodox dominated school board has propagated against the non-orthodox residents that live in their school district!

    Free Busing has been denied to non-orthodox Jewish and Christian school children in the District While orthodox Jewish school children recieve free Busing to orthodox Yeshivas”!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    The attorney from Garden City obiviously not a very astitute attorney mislead his cilents and should have filed civil suit on the bases of religious discrimination.

    Instead of filing an appeal The non-orthodox residents will have to file a new and different law suit against the Lawrence school board for ethic, Racial and Religious discrimination!!!!!!!