Wednesday, June 7, 2017


Lennon Baldwin.
The new South Orange Maplewood interim superintendent was named in a lawsuit by parents of a Morristown High School student who committed suicide while he was that district's superintendent.

The lawsuit, filed in 2014, claimed the school had a "culture of violence" and that if administrators had responded properly to complaints the boy would still be alive.

Lennon Baldwin, 15, killed himself in his home in 2012 after being bullied, robbed and assaulted by two fellow students, and a third 19-year-old, who were later convicted of related charges. 

The superintendent of the Morris School District at the time was Dr. Thomas Ficarra, who is being appointed tonight as the new SOMSD interim superintendent. 

He is named as a defendant along with several other administrators in the suit filed in 2014 by Baldwin's mother, Sharon Varnelas. 

"He's a culpable party here," Jeffery Youngman, an attorney for the teen's family, told today. He said it is still a "hotly-contested lawsuit."

Youngman said the case is still pending and is nearing the end of discovery, adding that Ficarra "had a duty of oversight of the principal" involved. He said the former superintendent has already been deposed twice, in June and July of 2016.

The case is of interest given that the South Orange-Maplewood School district has had a long-running concern about harassment, intimidation and bullying (HIB) cases. Among those is the lawsuit filed last year by former CHS baseball player David DeFranco claiming bullying by former baseball coach Joe Fischetti.

Youngman also happens to be the lawyer for the plaintiff in that case.

Attorney Vito Gagliardi, who has represented the Morris School District in the Baldwin case, said claims against Dr. Ficarra were unfounded.

"Dr. Ficarra didn't play any part in that tragedy," Gagliardi told Wednesday. "He was sued because he happened to be superintendent. The family has not provided any evidence, nor do I think they will be able to provide evidence, that this tragic suicide had anything to do with events that happened at school."

Asked if the district knew about the lawsuit or had any comment on it, South Orange Maplewood School Board President Elizabeth Baker said via email: "We are not going to comment on another district's litigation. We will provide more information about our due diligence tonight."