RIPLEY - A group of Ripley residents opposing the closure of the high school and who believe at least some of the members of the Board of Education are acting illegally have hired a Buffalo area attorney to represent them.
Approximately 60 people who reside within the Ripley School District have retained Steven M. Cohen, Esq. from the law firm of HoganWillig to bring a series of lawsuits to obtain the following relief:
Article 36 Proceeding to remove President Bob Bentley, Ted Rickenbrode, Fred Krause and Nancy Rowe from the Ripley Board of Education;
Article 78 Proceeding to render null and void a vote that would dissolve the high school and require Ripley students to attend Chautauqua Lake High School;
Suit in Federal Court against Bob Bentley and members of the Ripley School District for election law violations, campaigning on issues in violation of election law, fraud, and deprivation of civil rights by preventing eligible voters from voting against a referendum, and allowing ineligible voters to vote for a referendum.
"We are also asking the New York State Comp-troller to audit the Ripley School District, which appears to have been engaging in an illegal and unethical course of fiscal conduct for several years," Cohen said.
"We have evidence of self-dealing, nepotism and misappropriation of funds which we are turning over to the comptroller. There has been a pattern and practice of vindictiveness on the part of the school board president that will be investigated by the authorities. For the moment, the investigation is civil, but the evidence we have reviewed so far suggests the possibility of criminal indictments in the future."
Through the audit and these several lawsuits, the citizens of Ripley hope to restore the high school, restore 16 teachers' jobs that have been cut, and claim to be seeking a restoration of integrity within the district.
Reached by telephone Tuesday, Cohen said they hope to file the Article 36 proceedings and the Article 78 Proceedings by Friday. The Federal Court suit isn't expected to be filed until Aug. 1.
He said they also hope to be in contact with the State Comptroller's office in the next two weeks.
When asked why he was hired, Cohen said he believes his office was contacted because they've handled a number of larger cases, including Lynn DeJac Peters' wrongful imprisonment.
"We've handled a good number of high-profile matters and they wanted to bring some attention to this case because they felt they were battling some deeply entrenched power brokers in the Ripley School district," he said.
Ripley resident Wanda Bentley said they're looking forward to having their day in court. "There's a group of us that's concerned about this," she said, declining further comment.
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