A lawsuit filed against Farmington Public Schools (FPS) over the sale of Eagle Elementary School took a turn into cyberspace Tuesday.
FPS attorney Michael Weaver of Plunkett Cooney in a brief filed Tuesday, used screenshots of a personal Facebook page belonging to a Farmington Hills resident who is not a plaintiff in the suit, to bolster an argument that the plaintiffs' legal claims are "mere cover for religious and cultural intolerance."
A footnote regarding the exhibit reads, "Indeed, there appears to be a distinct few within the community who are committed to blocking the sale of the property merely because of their own religious and cultural bias." Exhibit 2 is described as "a small, but representative example of what is truly going on in this case."
Plaintiffs Eugene Greenstein and Melvin Sternfeld filed suit in Oakland County Circuit Court in July, after officials voted to sell the elementary school to the Islamic Cultural Association (ICA), based in Franklin. The sale was approved after , attended by scores of residents who opposed the sale, as well as supporters of the ICA.
In a statement emailed Tuesday evening, the plaintiffs' attorney Robert C. Davis of Davis Listman Brennan in Mt. Clemens criticized use of the personal Facebook page. "This is how people act when they become defensive. They resort to name calling and personal attacks to deflect the real issues," he wrote. "It is corrupt and wrong. The cover is worse than the original violations."
Among other things, the plaintiffs' lawsuit alleges that officials violated their own bylaws by failing to rescind a motion authorizing bids for the demolition of five vacant buildings, including Eagle, and by not approving a method and procedure for the building's sale. They also allege that Sternfeld, a real estate broker, made inquiries about purchasing the building before the ICA made its offer, and was told Eagle was not for sale.
In a Sept. 15 filing with the court, Davis wrote that the district approved the sale without an "open and public" process or appraisal, and without obtaining competitive bids or evaluating the impact on surrounding neighborhoods.
Weaver has filed a motion requesting that the case be adjudicated without a trial. The district's position is that the plaintiffs do not have standing to file the suit, and that their claims are moot, because the district is able to address their complaints.
Responding to the plaintiffs' Sept. 15 brief, Weaver cited passed by the board, which noted the board's May 12 approval of a method and procedure for the sale and amended the previous motion to include Eagle in the demolition bid.
He also disputes the plaintiffs' claim that they have standing to file a lawsuit because Sternfeld and the clients he represented were unable to submit a bid for the property. Weaver wrote that Sternfeld does not have a legally protected right to make a profit, and the board was not required to put the property out for public bid.
"Indeed, the only real legal interest Plaintiffs had was to participate in public comment - which they did!", he wrote.
In his emailed statement, Davis wrote, "It makes no sense to me that any taxpayer should have to prove standing when his or her elected officials violate the public trust and squander a resource that the taxpayers bought with hard earned money." The money, he said, belongs to the taxpayers, and not the board. "We have a right to ensure it is managed in accordance with the law."
According to Greenstein, a hearing on the suit will be held this morning in Oakland County Circuit Court in Pontiac.