I am one member of a five person board. The opinions I express on this forum are mine only, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Escambia County Staff, Administrators, Employees, or anyone else associated with Escambia County Florida. I am interested in establishing this blog as a means of additional transparency to the public, outreach to the community, and information dissemination to all who choose to look. Feedback is welcome, but because public participation is equally encouraged, appropriate language and decorum is mandatory.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished---School District prevails with Summary Judgment in James Benny Washington Case

From an email sent by Board Attorney Donna Waters this morning:


            Good Morning:
            Mr. Hammons' office just advised us that a summary judgment in favor of the School Board has been granted in the Case of James (Benny) Washington v. School Board.  This means that the Court found that there were no material facts in dispute, and that based upon those undisputed facts, there was no legal basis on which the plaintiff could win at trial.
            I will provide a copy of the court's order to you upon receipt.
            Congratulations are due to Mr. Hammons and his staff for this success!
            Donna Sessions Waters
            General Counsel
            Escambia County School Board
            75 North Pace Boulevard
            Pensacola, Florida 32505

At the regular meeting of the Escambia County School Board on December 18, 2007, Superintendent Jim Paul  recommended that the board terminate then  employee James Benny Washington.  After reviewing the entire issue, including looking into the appropriate files and speaking with numerous district administrative personnel with direct knowledge of this employee, I made the difficult decision at that time to not support the termination recommendation.  At the regular  meeting that December evening, Superintendent Jim Paul was stunned  as the board voted down his recommendation and instead allowed this employee to resign.
It became somewhat personal to me, as I made the recommendation that this employee be allowed to resign, which was voted on and passed by the board over the objection of Superintendent Paul.
This employee had some significant issues, including a legal issue in the courts, which would have provided ample support to the termination had the board decided to take that path.  My fear in terminating this employee was that an appeal might be successful—and we would then be compelled to bring this person back with back-pay and be “stuck” with him forever.   Nobody wanted that.   Also, the compassionate side of me felt that to allow him to quit might provide him the spark necessary to get back on track with his coaching/teaching career.  I harbored no personal animosity toward this employee; rather, I felt that if he voluntarily quit, as he was pleading with us to allow, then we would have the benefit of a clean break from him.  No DOAH hearings, no arbitration, no Union Grievances, nothing.  He would be gone, and that would be that.  Plus, we would not have to spend oodles of cash fighting him through these grievances, hearings, appeals, or in court because ----he wanted to quit.
To me it seemed so clear.
But I was wrong—at least initially.  After James Benny Washington quit, it became one legal fight after another---racking up huge legal bills for the taxpayers of this county to eat in the process.  In June of 2009, Washington  filed a two count complaint against the School Board in Circuit Court.  We let him quit, which he requested, then he sued us.  And this has been expensive--  I have requested and will get the exact figure, but for now the outside legal counsel expense is estimated to be between $25-30K, plus countless hours of our in-house attorney’s time, and add to that staff time in preparing documents and doing research and attending meetings on this issue.  Yes, this person quit and yet we were incurring huge costs.   I was infuriated  when the lawsuit broke in 2009 and wanted so badly to come forward and discuss this travesty earlier and in the media—but I was admonished not to do so for fear of jeopardizing the case .  So I’ve kept my mouth shut, my opinion to myself, and gritted my teeth as the legal bills mounted and the taxpayers continued to be soaked.
Eventually, this issue faded into the background with all of the other legal matters, until about six months ago when the issue again bubbled up to the surface as one of the two counts alleged by James Benny Washington vaporized via a summary judgment in our favor.  One Count down, one to go!
Fast forward to last week,  and the issue came up again, as I was subpoenaed to appear in court!  Unbelievable—I lead the charge to allow this man to quit  after he pleaded with us over and over--and I end up getting subpoenaed to appear in court as huge legal fees continue to mount for the taxpayers!!

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished. 
Thankfully, I won’t be going  to court next week after all—as it appears  that the Saga of James Benny Washington’s Case is finally over—nearly four and a half years and tens of thousands of  taxpayer dollars later, the second count of his complaint is gone as of today.   A summary judgment in favor of the School Board has been granted in the Case of James (Benny) Washington v. School Board.
Meanwhile, the moral of the story is that even when you are in the right and you try to make a good decision and do the right thing by giving somebody something they want-- you can still get socked with a costly lawsuit,  which is incredibly frustrating.

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