The five defendants in the law suit by Jefferson County school superintendent Craig Pouncey have now filed paperwork in Montgomery claiming every action that took place regarding an anonymous “smear sheet” about Pouncey was simply a part of their job and therefore, they have immunity from legal action.
AL.com reporter Trish Crain did an excellent job with this article detailing the essence of the case. She even provides links to view the briefs filed by defendants. These include state board member Mary Scott Hunter, former interim state superintendent Phillip Cleveland, state department of education legal counsel Juliana Dean and two of her associates, James Ward and Susan Crowther.
Interestingly, four of the defendants, including Hunter, are attorneys.
I have read all 91 pages of briefs and exhibits. A lot of “lawyer talk” and citing case law, footnotes, etc. Did I understand all I read? Hardly. The next law book I read will be the first one.
But hopefully I’ve been around long enough and have enough common sense to get the context and raise some questions. In so many words, all three briefs imply that Pouncey is bitter that he was not selected as state superintendent and as a result, filed a suit with no grounds on which to stand. The brief for Juliana Dean, James Ward and Susan Crowther, all attorneys tor the state department of education, states, “It is clear from his Complaint that Dr. Pouncey is looking for someone to blame for his perception that the anonymous letter cost him the State Superintendent job.”
Hunter’s brief says, “So, in an apparent attempt to sue somebody for something, Plaintiff has chosen to name as defendants various persons who work part-time or full-time for the State of Alabama Department of Education claiming that they are at fault for their role in trying to clean up the mess that the anonymous letter created.”
I find it interesting that Hunter’s brief is somewhat flippant, such as this statement: “Now the facts alleged by Plaintiff would make for an interesting lawsuit and perhaps a great legal thriller novel.” It also has one glaring error. Anytime such happens, I always wonder what other errors have been made.
And I find the contention that all five were simply doing their jobs and doing due diligence on Pouncey hard to swallow in light of other things that happened throughout this process.
Since Hunter is only one of eight elected board members, was it her responsiblity to make sure the letter in question got to both Dean and the Ethics Commission? Why was she not discussing her actions with other board members, six of whom testified before a legislative committee that they paid little attention to the letter because it was not signed and they knew it could not be investigated by the Ethics Commission. By inference, does this mean all other board members were NOT doing their job?
The smear sheet was not signed and could not be verified by the Ethics Commission. In addition, the incident it referred to happened in 2009, meaning the statute of limitations for action by the Ethics Commission has long since run its course. So four attorneys who should have known all of this felt it was their duty to investigate something the Ethics Commission could not?
And given this supposed attention to due diligence, where was the due diligence on applicant Mike Sentance? It was the responsiblity of the state department lawyers to “vet” all applicants. Did they tell the state board that Mike Sentance was a candidate for this same job in Alabama in 2011 and did not get an interview? Did they tell them that he had been rejected by at least nine other state and local school systems when he applied for their top job? Did they tell them that he worked for a company for eight months in 2011 and got fired?
There will be a hearing before the judge about whether the case proceeds or not on May 1.
I have no idea how the judge may rule. But you don’t have to be a Philadephia lawyer to know the search process conducted in 2016 was flawed.