CTNJ file photo
Dianne Kaplan deVries, director of the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding, and state Rep. Jack Hennessy (CTNJ file photo)

The landmark education funding trial that had been scheduled to start in September before being pushed back to January 2015, has been delayed indefinitely as attorneys try to figure out how many emails were deleted by the woman who leads the coalition of 18 parents suing the state.

The attorneys who represent the coalition — the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding (CCJEF) — told the court and the state that they had learned that the head of the coalition, Dianne Kaplan deVries, was instructing parents and possible witnesses to delete her emails.

The instructions to delete the emails started as far back as 2005 and were made as recently as 2014, according to motions filed in court.

In one of the emails to Lee Erdmann, who worked as Hartford’s chief operations officer at the time, Kaplan deVries told him “PLEASE DELETE THIS EMAIL AS SOON AS YOU’VE READ IT. We have to start worrying about what we communicate in writing. Subpoena powers in court cases can be deadly.”

In another 2010 email, she told University of Connecticut Economist Fred Carstensen to delete the email because “I need to keep you ‘clean’ for probably use as an expert witness and/or for being used as one of our consultants when it comes time to negotiate a settlement.” Carstensen said he deleted the email from both his incoming and outgoing email box.

However, Kaplan deVries failed to delete her emails, which is how the attorneys representing the coalition discovered them.

“I’m deeply embarrassed about the disclosure of personal emails that have nothing to do with the merits of this case,” Kaplan deVries said Friday in an emailed statement. “But this case isn’t about emails — it’s about the need to fix Connecticut’s broken education funding system.”

Herb Rosenthal, president of CCJEF, remained confident the issue would be resolved and the underlying case would move forward.

“The lawyers and the judge will figure out any issues about documents,” Rosenthal said. “CCJEF remains focused on the future of Connecticut’s schoolchildren, and we’re looking forward to talking about that in court.”

But determining the extent of the problem may be difficult.

“If deVries told one plaintiff to destroy evidence, and later that plaintiff asked deVries to do the same, and then that plaintiff asked others to destroy evidence related to CCJEF, there is every reason to believe that deVries told other plaintiffs to do the same, and reason to suspect that other plaintiffs followed suit,” Associate Attorney General Joseph Rubin wrote in his motion to the court.

The state also argues in its motion to the court that, based on some of the content of the emails, the coalition may lack standing to bring the lawsuit.

Based on deVries’ comments about various members of the coalition, Rubin argues that the group can’t possibly represent the interests of the parents and districts it says it represents.

“The Defendants have consistently asserted that CCJEF lacks standing, among other reasons, because its membership, including teacher unions, school boards, students and school superintendents, among others, creates an inherent conflict of interest which renders it unable to represent the interests it claims to represent,” Rubin wrote.

He pointed to a recently discovered email from deVries in which she says the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities is the only organization CCJEF can trust and expresses doubts about Joseph Cirasuolo, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Public Schools Superintendents and Robert Rader, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education.

“Joe is far worse than a fraud,” deVries wrote in the Jan. 13, 2014 email.

“I put up with it because we can’t afford to lose the supts from this case … Please delete this email as I will, ha,” she added.

A hearing on the extent of the email deletions has been scheduled on Jan. 12.