Saturday, June 20, 2009

Subpoenas in John Freshwater Hearing -- School Board Says Judge Doesn’t Have Jurisdiction

Mount Vernon school board members do not want to appear to testify in the hearing for the teacher they placed on unpaid administrative leave last summer. In a brief filed on Friday, they said the county judge cannot make them testify:

“The statue is clear – this Court’s jurisdiction to compel attendance at a hearing is limited to the instance where a person fails to comply with a subpoena. As the subpoenas have been quashed by the Board, Petitioner does not have a vehicle to invoke this Court’s jurisdiction. Therefore, Petitioner’s Application should be rejected in its entirety.”

This second document from the school board’s attorneys appears to have been submitted along with the one on Wednesday, but it had to receive special approval from Judge Eyster before officially being “filed.” It goes into greater detail than the previous document—including citing specific court cases and providing affidavits from three of the school board members.

In this brief, it says that if board members testified “they would necessarily have to disqualify themselves from participating in the ultimate adjudication of this matter.” In the document filed on Wednesday, it only said it was “likely.”

As support for their position, the brief cites the case of Wilson v. Okla Horse Racing Comm’n:

“…[T]he actions of [the board member] in initiating and taking an active role in the matter for which [a horse trainer] was suspended, coupled with his presiding over the three-person Board and testifying in the case created a situation in which he should have disqualified himself.”

When the board voted to start the process of firing Freshwater last summer, they gave four reasons that they said were “independently sufficient ground for termination of employment.”

During the 20 days of testimony in the ongoing hearing, the evidence for many of the original allegations has been challenged. The brief filed Friday included a summary of the original four reasons as “Background” information:

  • “Petitioner’s use of a ‘Tesla’ coil, an electrical device, on multiple 8th grade students in science class, burning a mark on at least one of them.

  • “Petitioner’s teaching outside the approved curriculum, including teaching Creationism and Intelligent Design and including teaching religion in his eighth grade science class.

  • “Petitioner’s failure to stay within the statutorily imposed duties for a school employee monitor of a religious organization, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and serving as a participant rather than a non-participant in his role there.

  • “Petitioner’s acts of insubordination by failing to follow a directive of school administrators and further compounding the insubordination by taking further action to highlight that insubordination.”

The “failing to follow a directive” in item number four is a reference to Freshwater’s Bible. The “further compounding” most likely refers to Freshwater bringing a Bible and another book from the school’s library into his classroom.

The school board members have not been attending the hearing. Those present at the hearing have been their attorney, David Millstone, and Superintendent Steve Short.

The affidavit of school board President Ian Watson states that he does not have firsthand knowledge of the “alleged acts of Mr. Freshwater.” He does acknowledge having talked with the Dennis family—who brought complaints against Freshwater—and that he also did try the Tesla coil out on his own arm to see what it would do:

“Prior to issuance of the Amended Resolution, I had several conversations with Steve Dennis and Jennifer Dennis involving concerns and complaints they had about Mr. Freshwater’s class and activities at Mount Vernon Middle School. I referred those concerns and complaints to the Superintendent of the Mount Vernon Schools, Steve Short. After the Mount Vernon Schools received a written letter from counsel for Mr. and Mrs. Dennis, the Board of Education decided to have an independent investigation made into the various concerns and complaints they had raised.”


“At some point in April 2008, I asked to see a demonstration of the Tesla coil, an instrument Mr. Freshwater is alleged to have used to burn or mark a student and then applied it to myself to see if it would a (sic) cause a burn. Subsequently, Steve Dennis came to my office and saw the mark it had made on me. I had not scheduled Mr. Dennis to come to my office.”

The affidavit of board member Jody Goetzman also stated that she did not have any firsthand knowledge. She does acknowledge having talked with Jennifer Dennis about her complaints, but said that it was prior to taking office as a school board member.

The conversation Goetzman had took place sometime between November 2007 and January 2008. “She expressed concerns and raised issues concerning Mr. Freshwater and her son,” Goetzman stated. “I advised her that I was not yet a Board member and that if she had concerns as a parent, she should go to school authorities including the Middle School Principal and the Superintendent, to pursue or (sic) concerns.”

The affidavit of board member Margie Bennett also stated that she did not have any firsthand knowledge. She acknowledges being subpoenaed “to appear to testify and to produce certain documents.” She has been on the board since January 1988 and currently serves as its vice-president.

The brief filed Friday argues that Freshwater does not have a legal right to force anyone to turn over documents. “[The law] does not provide any right to the discovery of documents as sought by Petitioner,” the brief stated. “The statute only provides that the parties require witnesses to be under oath and subject to cross-examination.”


For more information, see the last two articles on this topic:

“School Board ‘quashed’ Subpoenas in the John Freshwater Hearing.”

"School Board Gives Reason for Not Complying With Subpoenas."

UPDATE 7/1/2009:

The minutes of the May 4, 2009 school board meeting are now online.

In this meeting, it was voted—by the Mount Vernon City School District Board of Education—to quash the subpoenas of Margie Bennett and Ian Watson.

The board believes that only these two members were subpoenaed. Attorney for John Freshwater, R. Kelly Hamilton, filed an “application to compel attendance of witnesses” that says that Jody Goetzman was also subpoenaed.

The relevant portion of the board’s minutes are below:

Mrs. Fair moved, seconded by Mr. Hughes, to quash Dr. Bennett’s subpoena to testify at the Freshwater termination hearing on May 7 and May 8, 2009.

Call of votes: Mrs. Fair, Yes; Mr. Hughes, Yes; Dr. Bennett, Abstain; Mrs. Goetzman, Yes; Mr. Watson, Yes.

Motion carried.

Mrs. Goetzman moved, seconded by Mrs. Fair, to quash Mr. Watson’s subpoena to testify at the Freshwater termination hearing on May 7 and May 8.

Call of votes: Mrs. Goetzman, Yes; Mrs. Fair, Yes; Dr. Bennett, Yes; Mr. Hughes, Yes; Mr. Watson, Abstain.

Motion carried.


“Judge Says He Doesn’t Have Jurisdiction”


Anonymous said...

Even though the School Board quashed the subpoenas, the court still has to agree with their rational.

The School Board should hand over the documents and testify. The case really should be transparent. The legal manuevers demonstrate that they are hiding their bias.

The concern about voting at a later date is meaningless to testifying. The fact is the truth should be the same and the board's bias will remain the same.

Testifying does not change the vote so they should testify.

The board members are just trying to save their own necks by hiding from the public.

Keep in mind that liberals are dishonest folks who rarely will be honest with the public about their actions.

Anonymous said...

The school board members are not Liberals.

Anonymous said...

"Keep in mind that liberals are dishonest folks who rarely will be honest with the public about their actions."
HA, HA, HA ... the school borad must be liberals because ??? By your definition, Freshwater is a liberal because I've heard out of his mouth I didn't burn a student and it wasn't a cross it was an X. Which is it?

It's a conflict of interest to testify and then vote if that testimony is accurate. I'm sure many folks would like to first testify and then vote in the jury.

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