A New York State Supreme Court judge on Wednesday ordered a "special referee" to determine if a school district in Suffolk County, N.Y., defied a court order barring a public referendum on an $11.7 million bond issue.
Judge Lawrence E. Kahn of the state Supreme Court, in Albany County, said the Commack Union Free School District may be in "criminal contempt" for holding the bond referendum a day after he issued a temporary restraining order on the ballot issue.
The restraining order came in response to a lawsuit filed by taxpayer activist Robert L. Schulz on behalf of the All-County Taxpayers Association.
Schulz claimed that the school district violated state law by using public money to advertise the merits of the bond sale. The district plans to use proceeds to finance repairs on several schools.
The state Supreme Court in Albany County today will hear oral arguments on the case, which involves several different motions and includes one charging the state with illegally using public money to advertise Gov. Mario M. Cuomo's $800 million Jobs for the New, New York Bond Act. Voters defeated the bonding proposal on Tuesday.
In his ruling, Kahn said that "Our public schools are charged with the duty to impart respect and obedience to the judicial system, which is the soul of the democratic process.
"Those charged with overseeing the education of our children must not foster or condone an attitude which would undermine the cornerstone of our democracy," he said.
Kahn said the contempt motion will be given to Troy, N.Y., lawyer Robert Smith, who will act as a "special referee."
Smith "will report on the issue of whether the order of Oct. 13, 1992, has been violated, and if so, by whom," the judge wrote in his motion statement.
Smith was not available for comment.
Lawyers representing the Commack school district said they did not violate any law by defying Kahn's order.
Eugene R. Barnosky, a lawyer with the Melville, N.Y., law firm of Cahn Wishod Wishod and Lamb, which is representing the school district, said the state Supreme Court in Albany County does not have jurisdiction to prevent a vote on the bond issue, which passed 1,566 to 716.
Barnosky said only the state's commissioner of education can block the vote.