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Special Ed Advocate Fights School Board’s Call for Dismissal of Open Meeting Law Complaint


Kent County Courthouse, Warwick, R.I. [R.I. Attorney General website]
Warwick, RI — Attorney Anthony Sinapi, the special education advocate who is suing the Warwick School Committee for alleged violations of the state Open Meetings Act, recently filed a petition to keep the case alive despite the committee’s request to have it dismissed.

Sinapi filed the most recent motion in Kent County Superior Court on May 9, after the school committee replied to his earlier filing by arguing that his suit should be thrown out because he did not name all five members of the board, and that the board may not legally be sued as individuals because they are immune from civil litigation.

In his initial Feb. 1 filing, Sinapi alleged that the committee violated state law when it held meetings of the Elementary Consolidation Committee (ECC) in closed session and failed to publish agendas or keep minutes of those meetings.

The school committee filed its motion to dismiss on April 17, citing the same Open Meetings Act to argue that Sinapi should have filed the suit against the entire five-member committee.

“[T]he Plaintiff has not joined all the members of the Warwick Public School Committee; instead, he has cherry picked Whom [sic] to sue, thereby attempting to use this Court to politically punish his opponents,” the committee argues in its motion to dismiss.

School committee attorneys also argued that Supt. Philip Thornton “does not serve in a public body” because he is not a member of the board, and that suing the members they term “The Warwick Four” as individuals is not allowed under state law.

In reply, Sinapi argued that members of a public body like the school committee are not immune from being sued as individuals if their conduct is found to be “willful,” citing member Karen Bachus’s repeated objections to keeping the ECC meetings closed to the public as proof.

Despite Bachus’s efforts, the rest of the committee denied public access to the meetings, according to Sinapi’s court filings.

Sinapi also pointed out that Thornton, as an employee of the publicly-funded school department, is subject to OMA and any penalties that the court may impose.

[One of the cases cited by Sinapi was the Post’s legal filing seeking the release of the so-called Ragosta Report under the state’s public records laws, which succeeded in getting the report released to the public.]

According to Sinapi, there is no timeline for a hearing on the school committee’s dismissal motion.

“By failing to [request a hearing date], their motion could rot in legal purgatory forever,” Sinapi said in an interview.

Sinapi said he is considering asking the court to sanction the school committee for what he called “their frivolous arguments,” meaning they’re not supported by the plain language of the law.

The two most recent filings — Sinapi’s objection to the dismissal motion and the school committee’s motion to dismiss — are embedded below, chronologically by most recent date:

Plaintiff’s Objection to Defendants’ MTD Defendants’ MTD

Joe Hutnak -
Author: Joe Hutnak - [email protected]

Co-Founder and Editor-at-Large of Warwick Post. For Warwick Post-related inquiries or communications, email [email protected]

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