Judge backs SAD 63 on portion of ex-superintendent’s lawsuit

Posted May 18, 2009, at 8:39 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — U.S. Magistrate Judge Margaret Kravchuk has recommended a summary judgment in favor of the SAD 63 board on one federal claim in the seven-count lawsuit filed by former superintendent Louise Regan against the school board.

“The magistrate’s recommended decision is a huge victory for the District and all the defendants after many months of arduous litigation,” Bryan Dench, the school board’s attorney, said in an e-mail last week. “She rules that Ms. Regan does not have a valid civil rights claim against the district or any defendant, as we have been saying all along.”

Regan’s attorney disagrees with Kravchuk’s decision and plans to appeal.

Dench filed a motion for summary judgment in December of all seven counts brought against the district and several board members by Regan, who was fired. The former SAD 63 superintendent is suing the district and five of the eight board members on the panel who allowed one board member to read a “letter of concern” regarding Regan’s actions surrounding previously recorded meeting tapes.

Regan 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.

Kravchuk, in her May 12 recommendation, states that Regan’s claim that she did not receive adequate notice about the board’s intention to investigate and possibly fire her “lacks merit.” She also states that investigative findings show “that Regan’s own misconduct or lack of care was the source of the controversy over the handling of tape recordings and … that she had contracted the police to report a ‘theft’ after consulting with her ‘personal’ attorney.”

It goes on to state, “I disagree with Regan that she could not have anticipated the possibility of such a backlash,” and that “there can be no doubt but that Regan fully understood the correlation between the issue of the tape recordings and her institution of charges against the board.”

Kravchuk states that “the ultimate decision maker is the Commissioner of Education, who did not preside over the underlying investigation and discharge proceeding” and can “consider factual and disciplinary matters afresh.”

The judge also sent the remaining six counts back to Penobscot County Superior Court because they are outside the federal court’s jurisdiction.

Thad Zmistowski, Regan’s attorney, said last week they would appeal Kravchuk’s decision.

“We’re going to appeal because we think the federal [Section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act] claim is right,” he said. “The rest of the case will go back to state court unless we win our appeal.”

SAD 63 board member Karen Clark said last week that she jumped up and down in excitement when she heard Kravchuk’s recommendation.

“This is a good victory,” she said. “Did the board do what they were supposed to do? Yeah.”

Regan’s remaining six claims include two that the board violated the state’s Freedom of Access Act, one that states she wasn’t allowed to view her personnel file, two alleging breach of contract, and one for defamation. The fourth amended complaint, which was added in late February or early March, also adds two others under the Maine Human Rights Act.

“We are confident when a court finally rules on those claims the District and the defendants will prevail because they have done nothing wrong,” Dench said.

Clark said Dench would present Kravchuck’s recommendation, which will not become final until reviewed by another federal judge, to the board during its Monday meeting.

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