How it was

Brookfield school board President Joseph Pasquerilla Thursday pantomimes how he slapped board member Dr. Ronald Brennan March 5 at the end of a late-night board executive session. Pasquerilla was found guilty of assault after a 90-minute trial in Trumbull County Eastern District Court.

When two Brookfield students get into a fight on school grounds they are punished accordingly. The same goes for Brookfield School Board members who swear at and slap each other, a judge ruled Thursday.

“I don’t know what to say right now, I’m just surprised,” school board President Joseph Pasquerilla said moments after he was found guilty of a single charge of assault after a 90-minute trial in Trumbull County Eastern District Court.

Warren attorney David Lake filled in for Judge Ronald Rice, who recused himself from the case.

Pasquerilla didn’t deny slapping fellow board member Dr. Ronald Brennan, but Youngstown attorney David Betras argued his client was defending himself after Brennan called Pasquerilla a “son of a bitch” and a “dictator” at the end of a late-night executive session March 5.

That profanity and worse were repeated several times during the trial as Trumbull County Assistant Prosecutor Sean O’Brien made the case against Pasquerilla and the board members who were there for the spat.

“It was over probably as fast as it started,” Betras said.

The school directors recalled different points of the meeting when they testified.

On that night the board convened to interview candidates to replace board member Steven Varga, who had resigned, and “actually the interviews went very well,” board member Timothy Filipovich testified.

The meeting was about to end in gridlock when Pasquerilla “expressed some disparaging comments,” about Brennan and Filipovich, who together represent one side of the divided school board.

Pasquerilla and Dean Fisher fill out the other side.

The board has struggled to manage the school as voters have repeatedly said no to tax increases for more than a decade. Pasquerilla and Fisher are for prudent school management and have lobbied for cuts, while Brennan and Filipovich have opposed the cuts and supported campaigns to pass a levy.

Ohio voters control their school districts’ tax rates.

The men were sitting around a conference table when things turned ugly on March 5.

“Mr. Pasquerilla was just talking, but Mr. Brennan was yelling,” Filipovich testified.

Brennan stood up “pointing and yelling” at Pasquerilla, who stood up and “belly bumped” Brennan, Filipovich said.

Then, “Mr. Pasquerilla slapped him in the face,” Filipovich said.

Brennan, Fisher and Pasquerilla also testified to versions of a similar story. No one denied the slap, but the “belly bump” may have been a push by Brennan, Fisher and Pasquerilla testified.

Either way, “both of these gentlemen were out of line,” Filipovich said on the stand.

“What I saw was two grown men acting like children,” he said. “We suspend kids for doing that at school.”

The judge agreed and when he imposed the sentence on Pasquerilla, Lake included some punishments that are befitting of a student.

In addition to a $250 fine and a suspended jail sentence, Pasquerilla was suspended from the next three board meetings, must write a letter of apology to Brennan, and must complete anger-management classes.

Brennan was also punished for his actions. After hearing the men testify, O’Brien charged Brennan with disorderly conduct. He pleaded no contest and was ordered to pay a $25 fine.

After the trial, Brennan said it is time to move on.

“I didn’t want it to get to this level,” he said, although it was on his behalf that O’Brien filed the charge. “I have already apologized to him (Pasquerilla).

“I felt someone had to stand up to Mr. Pasquerilla and not let him get away with this,” Brennan said. “Someone has to stand up to a bully.”

Pasquerilla said he will consult with Betras before deciding whether to appeal the sentence.

“Hopefully this will start the healing process in the community,” O’Brien said. “It sets an example. We’re going to hold the school board accountable like everyone else.”

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