Friday, June 12, 2009

School Board “quashed” Subpoenas in the John Freshwater Hearing

Three members of the Mount Vernon City School District Board of Education have refused to comply with subpoenas to testify and turn over documents in the John Freshwater hearing, according to a document obtained from the Court of Common Pleas Knox County, Ohio.

Those named in the document—“Application to compel attendance of witnesses in the employment hearing of John Freshwater”—are Ian Watson, Jody Goetzman and Margie Bennett. In addition to those already subpoenaed, the application requests that board member Sharon Fair be required to testify and turn over documents.

The application—dated June 2, 2009—was submitted to the court by R. Kelly Hamilton, attorney for Freshwater. It states that the subpoena for documents from Watson was as early as February 27, 2009. The three board members—Watson, Goetzman and Bennett—were submitted with subpoenas, to testify, in March and April of 2009, according to the application.

Freshwater, according to the application, was told in May that the board members would not be appearing to testify:

“In an email dated May 6, 2009, legal counsel for employer advised Petitioner John Freshwater the school board had ‘quashed those subpoenas and neither individual will be appearing.’ On May 7, 2009, counsel for Petitioner and counsel for the school board discussed the statutory process for compelling the presence of witnesses desired by Petitioner with acknowledgment by referee who was appointed by the the (sic) superintendent of public instruction. Counsel for the parties, with acknowledgment by the referee, agreed Petitioner John Freshwater would make this Application pursuant to R.C. 3319.16 seeking to compel the production of documents and appearance of witnesses.”

The application cites portions of the Ohio Revised Code 3319.16:

“Both parties may be present at such hearing, be represented by counsel, require witnesses to be under oath, cross-examine witnesses, take a record of the proceedings, and require the presence of witnesses in their behalf upon subpoena to be issued by the treasurer of the board.

“In case of the failure of any person to comply with a subpoena, a judge of the court of common pleas of the county in which the person resides, upon application of any interested party, shall compel attendance of the person by attachment proceedings as for contempt.”

At this time, it is not known why the school board members mentioned above are refusing to comply with the subpoenas. (Request for comment from them has been made—if and when they reply, this article will be updated with their response.)

The application submitted to the court by Hamilton makes no mention of the school board members submitting a request to have their subpoenas quashed by the court. Presumably, if the school board had submitted a quash request to the court, Hamilton’s document would have been identified as a response instead of “Application to compel attendance of witnesses in the employment hearing of John Freshwater.”

Did the school board members try to “quash” the subpoenas themselves instead of requesting a judge to do it?

UPDATE 6/18/09:

For the school board’s side of the story, see the article “School Board Gives Reason for Not Complying With Subpoenas.”

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Freshwater Press Release: “Federal Lawsuit Filed Against Mount Vernon City School Board”

The following press release was provided today (6-10-09) by John Freshwater’s media contact person, Don Matolyak:

Federal Lawsuit Filed Against
Mount Vernon City School Board

A federal lawsuit was filed on behalf of John Freshwater, 8th grade science teacher at Mount Vernon Middle School against The Mount Vernon City School District Board of Education, as well as select members of the board, and administrators. Also included in the suit are Thomas and Julia Hurlevi, principals of H.R. on Call, Inc., and unnamed John and Jane Does.

The lawsuit, filed in US District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, cites free speech and equal protection violations under the US Constitution. Violations of Ohio Public Policy, religious harassment, retaliation, conspiracy, defamation, and breach of contract are also addressed in the claim filed Tuesday.

"The truth needs to be heard and I look forward to resolving this situation so I can get back to teaching science." Freshwater said, "I miss teaching and want to get back in the classroom."

The civil action shows Freshwater followed the directives given by the administration regarding items located in his classroom in April of 2008, but for the removal of his personal Bible from his desk. While the board continues to claim that this is ‘not about the Bible on his desk’, it was Freshwater’s public statements and refusal to remove his Bible from his desk which prompted the board’s actions and caused the chain of events that lead to this lawsuit.

The claim shows that Freshwater was discriminated against because of his personal religious beliefs and has been treated differently than other teachers in the district. The action shows a concerted effort was made by members of the MVCSDB and the administration to pose Freshwater in a bad light. The administration ignored their duties in following the appropriate process with Freshwater and was negligent in their own knowledge and training of board policy.

Throughout the course of the public hearings it became obvious that many of the assumptions presented against Freshwater were inaccurate, fabricated, unsubstantiated, or simply untrue, yet these accusations were used as the premise for Freshwater’s dismissal.

The lawsuit explains how investigators, hired by the board, failed to interview key individuals who had relevant information, refused to follow-up on leads which could have acquitted Freshwater, misrepresented documents within their report, and inserted inflammatory statements and personal bias.

Attorney for the MVCSD Board of Education, David Millstone, and members of the board conspired with others to alter the investigation and bias the hearing process. Attorney Millstone knowingly crossed lines of separation by reviewing drafts of the ‘independent’ investigative report in advance and providing information to H.R. on Call causing them to revise and further bias the report. Millstone also repeatedly collaborated with the Doe family, and their legal counsel, against Freshwater even while the Doe family had an action against the MVCSD.

The suit demonstrates how the MVCSD mishandled this situation by choosing to single Freshwater out and tarnish his reputation rather than investigate the facts.

Superintendant Steve Short, Middle School Principal William White, former school administrator Lynda Weston, school board members Ian Watson and Jody Goetzman, and the Hurlevi’s are all named individually, as well as in their official capacities, in the claim while Millstone is named only in his capacity as an agent for the MVCSDBOE.

According to Freshwater’s attorney R Kelly Hamilton, the preference was to complete the public hearing before filing any action, but the refusal of board members to testify has delayed the hearing and pushed against the statute of limitations requirements.

Freshwater Files Suit against School Board

Several news sources are reporting that John Freshwater filed a federal lawsuit on June 9, 2009 against the Mount Vernon City School District Board of Education:

“Federal lawsuit filed against school board”Mount Vernon News

"Freshwater files federal lawsuit"Mount Vernon News

“Ohio teacher who displayed Bible sues over firing” —WTTE FOX 28

The Mount Vernon News has posted a copy of the lawsuit on their website.

This evening (6-10-09), radio station WRFD is streaming a live broadcast related to the Freshwater case, including an interview with Freshwater's attorney Kelly Hamilton. (Click here for WRFD broadcast archive.)

The next public school board meeting will be held on June 15 at 7:30 p.m. in the Mount Vernon Middle School Library, 298 Martinsburg Road.

The next scheduled days in the Freshwater hearing are June 18 and 19.

UPDATE 6/16/09:

The hearing for June 18 and 19 has been canceled.