Judge grants 2-year extension of protection order for school against Wells man

Posted April 01, 2013, at 6:53 p.m.
 Michael White, left, and his father Tim White in November 2011.
Courtesy of Tim White
Michael White, left, and his father Tim White in November 2011.

WATERVILLE, Maine — A District Court judge on Monday granted a two-year extension of a protection from harassment order to Temple Academy against a man who had been protesting outside the Christian school.

Waterville District Court Judge Charles Dow sided with Temple Academy and Calvary Temple Church, which operates the school, in extending the protection from harassment order for another two years against Tim White, who previously coached the school’s boys basketball team.

In late 2009, White was let go by Temple Academy as the school’s volunteer basketball coach. Unsatisfied with the decision, White took his complaint up the administrative ladder. In each case, the athletic director’s decision to replace White was upheld.

When White continued to complain, White’s son Michael White, then a junior, was expelled by the school board in February 2010. Since his son was dismissed from the school, White has been protesting Temple Academy, he said Monday. He picketed near the school with signs that disparaged the school and the church pastor until he was served with the protection order on April 2, 2012. The order was set to expire Tuesday.

White argued in court Monday that the school was violating his First Amendment rights.

He stated that despite abortion doctors having been killed, pro-life activists were still able to protest outside of abortion clinics. The Westboro Baptist Church is also able to protest the funerals of soldiers, he said.

“They have produced no evidence, in my mind, that I have made any threats,” White, 55, said to Judge Dow.

School Principal Denise Lafountain testified Monday that she felt threatened whenever White was near the school.

“I’m afraid for my own personal safety. He’s talking about rights. I have the right to go to work and feel safe,” said Lafountain. “I’m so scared that if Mr. White shows up [near the school] again, I will make sure my sons aren’t on the property.”

White, who now resides in Wells, stood across the street from the school several times over several months, where he held signs comparing Calvary Temple Pastor Craig Riportella, who is the head of the church and school, to Jim Jones, the infamous 1970s leader of the Jonestown massacre. He also held a sign that said the church was no better than Penn State — in reference to the scandal that broke in 2011 in which the school allegedly covered up cases of child sexual abuse.

Riportella testified Monday that White’s protests affected those who saw him.

“Your presence across the street makes others feel very uneasy,” Riportella testified.

Lafountain testified Monday there was a perception that White has an anger problem.

“The issue is you’re not happy with the word ‘no.’ Three years later, you’re still not happy with the word ‘no,’” Lafountain said on the stand.

Attorney Alton Stevens, who is representing the school, wrote in his facts for the original protection order that “Mr. White’s conduct, over such a long period of time, has caused intimidation and fear for many staff, students, parents of students, and the director of the day care center located on the church’s property.”

The original protection order called for White to not be on West River Road in Waterville, where the school is located, and to not make disparaging remarks against the school.

Although White has not been on West River Road, he violated the second part of the order, said Stevens.

Stevens said White contacted the Assembly of God national office and its regional office based in Portland about Riportella. Calvary Temple is a member of the Assembly of God. Last August at SoulFest in Gilford, N.H., a Christian music festival, White protested near the entrance and held up signs stating that Riportella “threatened my teenage son.”

Stevens said Temple Academy has not asked that White be held in contempt of court in the past year “hoping it would go away.”

“Something has to be done to make him know he has to stop this,” said Stevens.

Lafountain said that it was unusual for someone to continue to pursue their protests after three years on the same issue.

“After all this time, it’s not reasonable for you to keep going after this,” she said.

Dow not only extended the order for another two years, but also amended the restrictions on where White could be in relation to the school. White cannot be on West River Road in Waterville. Also, he may not be on any side road, street or avenue that intersects between Kennedy Memorial Drive and Thomas College, a stretch of more than a mile. He also may not disparage the plaintiffs, including on the Internet.

“I urge you to consult with your own lawyer to make sure you’re in strict compliance,” Dow said to White.

White, who represented himself, testified Monday that when he wouldn’t let the issue go, his son Michael’s attendance at the school was used against him.

“My biggest issue is that they used my son as leverage several times,” said Katie White, Tim White’s wife. “I was heartbroken. My son did nothing wrong.”

Michael White, a junior when he was expelled by the school board in 2010, graduated from Carrabec High School in North Anson in 2011.

Dow stopped short of extending the protection from harassment order to the rest of White’s family, including his daughter Treza, who said she was on Louise Street on Monday morning with a protest sign.

Outside the courtroom, Tim White said it’s still not over.

“I’m asking any First Amendment lawyer to assist us,” said White, adding that he would be unable to pay the attorney. He said he had contacted the ACLU.

Riportella declined to comment after the hearing.

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