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Milltown BOE candidate must resolve claim against district before taking a seat on the dais, administrative law judge says

MILLTOWN – In 2017, Egnita Pardo and her husband filed a tort claim notice against the Milltown Public Schools on behalf of her minor son seeking reimbursement of medical expenses relating to an incident.

The claim is at the center of whether or not it’s a conflict of interest for Pardo to serve on the Board of Education (BOE).

Pardo garnered 909 votes in the Nov. 2 election, winning one of the three, three-year seats available on the board. She was set to take her oath of office on Jan. 4 at the BOE’s reorganization meeting.

Ahead of the meeting, Pardo learned the board viewed the tort claim notice as an “inconsistent interest.”

“My husband and I withdrew the claim on Dec. 15 in an attempt to resolve the potential conflict,” she said.

Pardo said she was not aware of the conflict.

“At no time during my 2020 interview for a board seat vacancy, nor during my 2020 write-in campaign or the 2021 campaign was I informed of the conflict,” she said. “In fact, it wasn’t until more than a month after I won the 2021 election that I was informed verbally by the Superintendent of Schools, Dr. [Stephanie] Brown. She told me that the BOE viewed my tort claim as a conflict. After about a week when I had not heard anything directly from the BOE I retained counsel to reach out to BOE counsel to address the matter.”

Despite the withdrawal of the claim, Aron Mandel, of the Busch Law Group, Metuchen, representing the BOE, filed a request for emergent relief with the state Department of Education stating because the claim is not of Pardo directly “a true resolution cannot be accomplished … except by Superior Court approval.”

“Because this matter involves a withdrawn tort claim notice, the question is whether this is a claim which is sufficient to disqualify a member from his or her seat on the board of education,” he wrote.

Mandel cited the “substantial” amount of damages the initial claim stated of $250,0000.

The case was heard before Administrative Law Judge Joseph A. Ascione and decided on Dec. 29 with Mandel representing the Milltown BOE and Nicholas J. Repici and Michael J. Reilly, of Lenox, Socey, Formidoni, Giordano, Lang and Casey in Lawrenceville, Mercer County representing Pardo.

Ascione concluded Pardo has a conflict of interest and “must resolve her right of reimbursement” in the tort claim against the board “prior to her duty to the public which elected her to be a member of the BOE.”

On Jan. 19, Acting Commissioner of Education Angelica Allen-McMillan concurred with the Office of Administrative Law’s decision.

“[Pardo] is precluded from being sworn in as a member of the board while a final decision on the merits of this matter is pending, which should be decided on an expedited basis,” she wrote. “Additionally, the board is precluded from filling [Pardo’s] seat on the board while this matter is pending.”

The Middlesex County Superior Court is expected to hear the case on Feb. 10.

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