Legal fees mount in SAD 63 lawsuit

Posted April 14, 2009, at 9:49 p.m.

HOLDEN, Maine — Attorney fees now total more than $500,000 in the lawsuits against SAD 63 and several board members brought forward 1½ years ago by now fired Superintendent Louise Regan.

With the district’s insurance expected to cover only $50,000 of the legal fees, town taxpayers already are on the hook for more than $152,000, and that could rise dramatically if the proceedings are prolonged or the district loses its case.

The legal actions have been consolidated into one seven-count lawsuit which is now before U.S. Magistrate Judge Margaret Kravchuk, who is deciding what to do with a motion filed by the school district for summary judgment in its favor.

“Throughout this litigation, the Plaintiff and her counsel have attempted to confuse the issues, resulting in considerable burden and expense to the taxpayers of SAD 63, and unnecessarily complicating the issues before this Court,” states the motion filed in December by the school board’s attorney Bryan Dench.

The motion for summary judgment is against all seven counts brought against the district and board members by Regan, who claims defamation and violation of her rights related to actions taken at an Oct. 22, 2007, school board meeting, and the subsequent investigation into her conduct and her firing.

Two other complaints filed against the school district with the Maine Human Rights Commission by Regan in 2007 recently were dismissed, Francia Davis, MHRC compliance officer, said on Friday.

“We did not investigate the case,” she said. “We don’t have a finding on it. They [Regan and her attorney] asked for a right to sue [on Feb. 28]. We dismissed the case soon after that.”

Davis added, “It just means they just don’t want to wait for us” to do the investigation.

Regan’s attorney, Thad Zmistowski, said on Sunday that they just wanted to streamline the legal proceedings.

“Because of the backlog of cases presently before the Maine Human Rights Commission, we made the strategic decision to pull the case out of Human Rights and go directly into court so that the entire matter can be adjudicated in one case,” he said.

He also filed a motion opposing the summary judgment.

The former SAD 63 superintendent is suing the district and five of the eight board members on the panel in October 2007 who allowed one board member to read a “letter of concern” regarding her actions surrounding previously recorded meeting tapes.

It is what happened with those tapes that spurred the legal matters that have occurred since. During the school board’s Oct. 22, 2007, meeting, then board member Dion Seymour, with the approval of a majority of the directors, read a statement that basically said Regan had told lies about him to three other board members concerning the tapes that “maligned” him and his integrity.

At the end of the regular meeting, the board held a 1½-hour closed door session, during which yelling occasionally could be heard through the cafeteria’s double doors. Board member Sylvia Ellis actually left the heated meeting after about an hour, saying, “I’m tired of this crap” and slammed the doors on her way out.

After the executive session ended, Seymour rescinded his letter and the board issued an apology for its actions that evening.

The five board members who voted to allow Seymour to read his letter — Seymour, Karen Clark, Therese Anderson, Linda Goodrich and Robert Kiah — are the ones named in Regan’s lawsuit.

Goodrich, who resigned from the board citing stress from the lawsuit, and Seymour, who lost his seat during the June 2008 local election, are no longer on the board.

The third-party administrator for the insurance company, Aspen Specialty Insurance Co.-APEX Public Entity Insurance Program, has indicated the firm will only cover $50,000 of the costs of the lawsuit, Yvonne Mitchell, SAD 63 business manager said on Monday.

“The total I have right now is $202,296” in attorney fees for the district, she said. Of that, taxpayers will be responsible for “$152,296 and some change.”

Zmistowski, who reported in the fall that his fees totaled more than $150,000 at that point, said on Sunday that the figure “has doubled.”

“It’s my understanding that if she wins on one count, we pay her legal fees as well,” Mitchell said.

What happens next lies in the hands of the U.S. District Court judge who must decide whether to grant the motion for summary judgment in the school district’s favor, or not.

“We’re waiting,” Dench said in a statement issued on Friday.

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