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Restraining order tangles two Warwick School Committee members

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WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — With key decisions required during the COVID-19 pandemic, the two leaders of the Warwick School Committee are locked in a landlord-tenant squabble that sparked a temporary restraining order.

Vice chairwoman Judith Cobden, who lived in a home owned by chairwoman Karen Bachus, was granted the order by a Kent County judge last Wednesday morning while the committee was holding a virtual meeting.

A police log from a September 19 call to the Van Zandt Ave. property stated the incident involved a “relationship that became toxic.”

Cobden’s attorney Murray Gereboff said the restraining order was prompted by a dispute.

“There was a blowout on [September 19] when the police were there,” Gereboff said. “I was informed she was locked out. She was basically moved out but just wanted to get back in to get her stuff.”

The police log stated Bachus “threw her items outside.”

Bachus did not comment on the claim Cobden’s belongings were tossed out, but took issue with Cobden not having access to the home.

“She was never locked out,” Bachus said. “The matter is resolved.”

There were no apparent signs of tension between Bachus and Cobden during the meeting which included an executive session that lasted about an hour and fifteen minutes.

Warwick police confirmed two calls for service at the Van Zandt address, but Maj. Michael Gilbert said the department’s role was to “keep the peace,” and an incident report was never filed.

The temporary restraining order signed by Judge J. Patrick O’Neil told Bachus to give Cobden access to the apartment and return any property that was removed.

Cobden said the dispute “is a purely personal matter.”

“We both have agreed to put our differences aside when it comes to school committee business and the Warwick school district,” Cobden said in an email. “The Warwick School District, its students and staff have always been and will continue to be my  sole focus in my capacity as a school committee member.”

Bachus said, “never was the school committee business at issue.”

“We’re both focused on the Warwick School Department,” Bachus said.

The restraining order is scheduled to expire on Saturday, with a hearing on the case set for Thursday.

At-large school committee member David Testa said he is not concerned about the dispute “impacting our meetings.”

“We’re all adults and should be able to separate the personal from the professional,” Testa said in an email.

Send tips to Target 12 Investigator Walt Buteau at and follow him on Twitter @wbuteau.

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