Warwick, RI — Judge Bennett R. Gallo ruled today that the School Committee must honor the City Council’s subpoena of the “Ragosta Report,” and a redacted version of the document is expected within a week.
The report, prepared by Attorney Vincent Ragosta, details the school department’s handling of allegations of inappropriate conduct with students against Gorton Junior High School Science Teacher Mario Atoyan.
Mayor Scott Avedisian said City Council legal counsel John Harrington informed him of the ruling today. Harrington disputed the school committee’s claim that the report was covered by attorney-client privilege simply because it was prepared by an attorney. Furthermore, Harrington said, it fell on the School Committee to prove attorney-client privilege was properly invoked.
As word of Gallo’s decision spread among City officials Thursday, it was apparent the School Committee failed, at least in part, to meet that test.
According to Assistant State Court Administrator Craig Burke, Gallo, in a ruling from the bench, identified parts of the report that fell into the category of attorney-client privilege, and said the School Committee could redact those portions, including those identifying minors and their parents.
Avedisian said he expects to have a copy of the report, redacted to remove the names of students, within a week. “And we will pass that on to the Council,” he said.
Avedisian said he is waiting for word from the Attorney General’s office about whether the report should also be made available to the public. Two news organizations, the Warwick Beacon and the Warwick Post, filed Access to Public Records Act (APRA) requests for the report, and were each denied by the School Committee. In their response to the Warwick Post’s request, the School Committee attorney also argued attorney-client privilege shielded the report from public disclosure.
On Monday, Harrington said a ruling that the School Committee must honor the subpoena does not necessarily mean the School Committee must also release the document to the public.
Councilwoman Camille Vella-Wilkinson, however, intends to discuss the report with her colleagues, Avedisian and the School Committee during a joint meeting, in open session.
“That’s what we are planning to do,” Vella-Wilkinson said Thursday afternoon. “We want to see exactly what was done once the issue was brought to light to the administration.”
School Committee Vice Chair Eugene Nadeau said he’s not certain what the subpoena will require the board to release to the City Council, since there is only a transcript of Ragosta’s discussion with the School Committee. “It’s not a report,” Nadeau said.
The fact that the report may exist only as a transcript of the discussion was also used as an argument against releasing the document in the School Committee’s denial of the Warwick Post’s request for the record.
“The transcript, a written copy, will suffice for reasonable observers,” Warwick Post argued in an appeal of the denial.
“We want parents to rest assured that when anything comes to light that their elected officials are working not only for the financial strength of the city, but that the health and safety of the city is paramount,” Vella-Wilkinson said.
“[New School Superintendent]Phil Thornton knows that this is one of the impediments to a good relationship between School Department and the City Council,” Avedisian said when asked his opinion on the ruling and the City Council’s efforts to get a copy of the report. Now, he said he wants to focus on building that relationship.
This is a test