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Errington v. Mansfield Township Board of Education

Decided: December 6, 1963.

ROBERT N. ERRINGTON, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
MANSFIELD TOWNSHIP BOARD OF EDUCATION IN THE COUNTY OF WARREN, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT



Goldmann, Kilkenny and Collester. The opinion of the court was delivered by Kilkenny, J.A.D.

Kilkenny

May a local board of education spend school funds for the legal defense of its members, sued individually in tort because of an allegedly libelous letter published by the president of the board upon the purported authorization of the other members? The Law Division gave a "no" answer to this question and granted summary judgment restraining the expenditure. Defendant board appeals therefrom. It also appeals from the denial of its motion to dismiss plaintiff's proceeding in lieu of prerogative writs for failure to exhaust his administrative remedies.

The allegedly offensive letter, addressed to plaintiff, was admittedly written and published by Catherine D. Harsha, the president of the board. This, it is said, was done pursuant to authorization by the other board members, informally given, but not at any regular or special board meeting. Copies were forwarded to the editors of the Hackettstown Gazette and Washington Star and published therein on November 30, 1961. The letter reads as follows:

"Dear Mr. Errington,

The Mansfield Township Board of Education will hold a special meeting December 5th, 1961, at 8:00 p.m. in the Firehouse at Port Murray. I sincerely hope you will be present.

After having read all your letters to the Editor, I am surprised that the truth concerns you at all.

You have become so desperate in your destructive drive to divide and conquer that you now twist and distort your previous untruths, half-truths and inferences.

I personally credit the people of this township with far more intelligence than to nurture the seed of doubt and distrust you have so cleverly tried to implant in their minds.

Mrs. Catherine D. Harsha,

President

Mansfield Board of Education.

Hackettstown, ...


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