Updated October 30, 2018: On September 24, the NJ Dept. of Education School Ethics Commission granted a request for adjournment requested by the attorney of the Respondent (Stephanie Lawson-Muhammad) and rescheduled the hearing on Docket #C34-18 for November 27. The request was granted against the objections of the Complainant (Walter Fields). See the letter from the Commission Director below. The story below was first published on September 10.
A complaint filed against South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education member Stephanie Lawson-Muhammad has been deemed “not frivolous” and a hearing date has been set for October 30 [updated: now scheduled for November 27].
In a letter dated September 4, 2018 (see full letter below), NJ Dept. of Education School Ethics Commission Director Kathryn A. Whalen also wrote that the Commission “found no evidence that Complainant filed the Complaint in bad faith solely for the purpose of harassment, delay or malicious injury.”
Walter Fields filed a complaint with the School Ethics Commission in May alleging an ethics violation by Lawson-Muhammad regarding her behavior during a traffic stop for speeding in South Orange. Fields alleged that Lawson-Muhammad abused her “privilege or civic standing to invoke [her] supposed immunity from being held to the same standards as an average citizen.”
Fields is known in the community as the leader of the SOMA Black Parents Workshop; however, he filed the complaint as an individual and not on behalf of the Workshop.
South Orange Police Department dashcam footage from the April 27 traffic stop was picked up by national and international media and provoked heated debate in Maplewood and South Orange as community members took sides in the matter. Lawson-Muhammad apologized for her behavior — during the traffic stop she referred to South Orange Police Chief Kyle Kroll as a “skinhead cop” — but did not resign her BOE position. Lawson-Muhammad asked that community members not be divided by the incident and said she and Kroll had met and would “work together to help heal our community.” She also alluded to possible political motivations behind the release of the video to the public.
Meanwhile, South Orange Village Trustee and police liaison Howard Levison defended the release of the video and the South Orange Village Trustees’ decision to vote to send the video to Board of Education President Elizabeth Baker expressing “great concerns” about Lawson-Muhammad’s behavior.
In the September 4 letter sent to Fields, School Ethics Commission Director Kathryn Whalen wrote:
“In this regard, The Commission voted [on August 28] to find that the Complaint was not frivolous in accordance with the standard set forth … and declined to impose sanctions …. More specifically, the Commission found no evidence that Complainant filed the Complaint in bad faith solely for the purpose of harassment, delay or malicious injury. The Commission Also did not have information to suggest that Complainant should have known that the Complaint was without any reasonable basis in law or equity. or that it could not be supported by a good faith argument for and extension, modification or reversal of existing law.”
The Commission also “voted to retain this matter for a hearing, which is currently scheduled for Tuesday, October 30, 2018.” The letter stipulated that Fields will “have the burden to prove the alleged violations .. of the Code of Ethics for School Board Members ….”
Lawson-Muhammad declined to comment for this story.