One Freshwater Suit Settled (See addendum at the end of the post)

| 34 Comments

Published reports this morning (see also here and here) says that the federal lawsuit brought by the parents of the boy who was burned with a Tesla coil in an 8th grade science class in the Mt. Vernon City Schools has been settled. According to the report

The district’s insurer has agreed to pay $5,500 to the family of the Mount Vernon Middle School eighth grader who alleged that his teacher, John Freshwater, burned a cross-shaped mark into his arm with a BD-10A Electrostatic Generator, according to a news release from the board of education. The company will also pick up the tab on the boy’s legal fees, which came in at $115,500.

This settlement does not affect the on-going administrative hearing on the termination of employment of the teacher, John Freshwater. That hearing has been on hiatus since May, and is due to resume sometime this fall. It is hanging fire waiting for the Ohio Supreme Court to decide whether to issue a writ of mandamus that would compel members of the Board of Education to testify in the hearing. It also does not affect the federal suit that Freshwater brought against the Board, several administrators, and some John and Jane Does over the summer.

The settlement has not yet been approved by the court, but no one I talked with anticipates a problem with that.

Addendum: I should mention that Freshwater is also a defendant in the Dennis family’s suit, and he is still a defendant. The settlement involves only the school district defendants.

34 Comments

One battle down, three more to go before this is “over?”

$5K in actual damages and $100K in plaintiff’s legal bills. Add to that the legal bills and time/effort of the school system, and you wonder why didn’t they settle much earlier.

Regardless of how all these suits come out, the clear message is that a school system is taking a huge financial risk if they tolerate religious activities by teachers and staff in their classrooms.

Wheels said:

One battle down, three more to go before this is “over?”

Yeah, there are three legal proceedings still in play, the termination hearing, the application for a writ of mandamus, and Freshwater’s federal suit against the Board, administrators, and miscellaneous Does.

An electrostatic generator is not a Tesla coil. A Tesla coil is a high voltage transformer which must be driven by some source of electrical power. A Van De Graaf machine is an electrostatic generator. It relies on a mechanically driven moving belt to generate high voltage static electricity at low current. A Tesla coil can be a dangerous machine capable of producing strong high voltage and would probably have killed the kid.

bigjohn756 said:

An electrostatic generator is not a Tesla coil. A Tesla coil is a high voltage transformer which must be driven by some source of electrical power. A Van De Graaf machine is an electrostatic generator. It relies on a mechanically driven moving belt to generate high voltage static electricity at low current. A Tesla coil can be a dangerous machine capable of producing strong high voltage and would probably have killed the kid.

Yeah, I’ve been hammering on the reporters for months about that. They seem impervious to the difference between something like a Van de Graaff generator and a Tesla coil.

What was used in the classroom was in fact a hand-held high frequency, high voltage generator, this one (pdf), which is a Tesla coil.

Divalent said:

$5K in actual damages and $100K in plaintiff’s legal bills. Add to that the legal bills and time/effort of the school system, and you wonder why didn’t they settle much earlier.

IMO some court cases do end up resembling a dollar auction: two parties compete over an award, the winner gets it but the loser pays their last bid (here: the billable hours of the competition). With that combination of rules the “legal auction” can easily spiral out of control.

whether to issue a write of mandamus

Probably just a typo, but I think “writ of mandamus” is what you’re after, Richard.

Thanks for the great reportage!

Steviepipnhead said:

whether to issue a write of mandamus

Probably just a typo, but I think “writ of mandamus” is what you’re after, Richard.

Thanks for the great reportage!

Oogh. Thanks. Got it.

The school board of Spencer, Iowa was caught trying to teach Creationism with the “critical analysis of Evolution” schtick. From what I can determine from the Des Moines Register, it is blowing up in their faces. They are revising their policy to avoid law suits. No Dover in Iowa, please.

Frank B said:

The school board of Spencer, Iowa was caught trying to teach Creationism with the “critical analysis of Evolution” schtick. From what I can determine from the Des Moines Register, it is blowing up in their faces. They are revising their policy to avoid law suits. No Dover in Iowa, please.

From the Chicago Tribune:

DES MOINES, Iowa - School officials in Spencer say they have tossed out plans for Bible classes to avoid possible litigation.

The district’s proposed “religious liberties” plan called for elective classes allowing arguments against evolution and discussions about the Bible’s role in history and literature.

The plan prompted scrutiny from activists who say it promoted Christian beliefs and faced possible legal challenges.

Superintendent Greg Ebeling says a revised policy will be examined by attorneys, teachers and other groups before being made public in September.

Spencer is believed to be the first Iowa district to spell out religious freedoms in schools.

“Religious freedoms”? Sounds more like Sunday School.

Des Moines Register story:

Spencer school officials will throw out a Bible class and discard a critique of evolutionary theory to avoid being sued over the district’s proposed “religious liberties” policy.

The elective classes and other parts of the plan drew fire last month from civil rights activists who said they promoted Christian beliefs.

School board members have gone back to the drawing board.

The school board paid the kid’s family and lawyers 121,000 USD. The school and their insurer must have run up legal bills roughly equal to that. Say a quarter of a million USD in wages, lawyer bills, and time wasted.

This is only part of the legal disputes which have dragged on for a long time. I’m guessing the whole proceedings will cost the school system between 1 and 2 million dollars before it is over. Probably closer to 2 million.

Got to hand it to Freshwater and the fundies. They know how to cause expensive problems for those who employed them.

raven said:

The school board paid the kid’s family and lawyers 121,000 USD. The school and their insurer must have run up legal bills roughly equal to that. Say a quarter of a million USD in wages, lawyer bills, and time wasted.

No, the Board’s insurance company will pay the $121K, less whatever deductible the policy carries. But yes, the Board’s legal bills for all the actions under way are considerable, on the order of $500K and still climbing. It’s not clear how much of that the insurance company will shoulder.

This is only part of the legal disputes which have dragged on for a long time. I’m guessing the whole proceedings will cost the school system between 1 and 2 million dollars before it is over. Probably closer to 2 million.

Again, insurance will pay a good deal of that.

Got to hand it to Freshwater and the fundies. They know how to cause expensive problems for those who employed them.

That seems to be the motivation behind the stalling and stringing out the hearing on the part of Freshwater’s attorney. Freshwater’s pastor, Don Matolyak, has been pushing the line that the Board should settle with Freshwater (on his terms, of course) and stop the bleeding of taxpayer money.

Just to remind everyone to check to see if the DI is still silent on this issue. Surely they have an opinion on the settlement. At least “none of this would have been necessary if Freshwater just stuck to teaching ’strengths and weaknesses’ of evolution.”

RBH said:

raven said: Got to hand it to Freshwater and the fundies. They know how to cause expensive problems for those who employed them.

That seems to be the motivation behind the stalling and stringing out the hearing on the part of Freshwater’s attorney. Freshwater’s pastor, Don Matolyak, has been pushing the line that the Board should settle with Freshwater (on his terms, of course) and stop the bleeding of taxpayer money.

How is a settlement even possible in Frreshwater’s wildest dreams? THIS FUCKER BRANDED A STUDENT! How is he not in JAIL?

It has been established in a court of law, beyond any possibility of reasonable doubt that John Freshwater is a danger to any children entrusted to his care. Why is this being dragged out so long? What more is needed? Would he have to actually kill and eat a child in public before someone dares suggest he belongs in prison? Would even THAT be enough to lose him the support of the local death cultists?

No, the Board’s insurance company will pay the $121K, less whatever deductible the policy carries. But yes, the Board’s legal bills for all the actions under way are considerable, on the order of $500K and still climbing.

OK, I see. Didn’t pay too much attention to their insurance company.

The school district still has to pay their own lawyers. Plus the indirect costs as district personnel spend time on this case rather than on their supposed job, educating kids.

And what is the probability that the insurance company will raise their premiums next time the school district policy comes up for renewal?

It isn’t trivial to add up the costs, but whatever the number, it is going to be large.

Spencer, Iowa, for those in the know, is located in the Northwestern part of the state; home to Representative Steve King (R) and bastion of right wing conservative “values”. I, however, live southeast of Des Moines near the Missouruh border, an area known for its right wing conservatism and democrat representation (Boswell and Harkin).

RBH said: No, the Board’s insurance company will pay the $121K, less whatever deductible the policy carries. But yes, the Board’s legal bills for all the actions under way are considerable, on the order of $500K and still climbing. It’s not clear how much of that the insurance company will shoulder.

Well, this school district’s insurance premiums will rise, so there will be some out-year costs. And to the extent these proceeding have revealed a risk the insurance companies were not completely aware of, premiums will rise somewhat for all school districts.

Most likely the insurance companies will start scrutinizing the policies of all school districts they cover, pressuring them to adopt specific policies that minimize this risk, under the threat of higher premiums (or canceled coverage).

IMO, Freshwater is a bit player in all this, a wacko that was enabled by a compliant school system. He’s a symptom, not a cause, of the situation that led to the legal and financial mess the school system finds itself in. They knowingly tolerated him, and they are paying dearly for that.

First The kid got a free tattoo Then gets rewarded for it Second The kid just might have learned something Third What the kid learn might change the world I remember a science teacher showing us how electrolysis worked What kind of risk did he take?It could have exploded This was 40 years ago I’m still thinking of ways to put it to use today .If you only knew what I’ve been thinking There would be people knocking on my door today Yes, I do think I could change the world RON

Ron Scott said:

If you only knew what I’ve been thinking There would be people knocking on my door today Yes, I do think I could change the world RON

So does this guy.

If you only knew what I’ve been thinking There would be people knocking on my door today Yes, I do think I could change the world RON

LOL. Got a lot of competition here. There are always lots of perpetual motion machines being invented. Plus the zero point free and infinite energy people. They even have their own journals.

Ron Scott said: If you only knew what I’ve been thinking There would be people knocking on my door today

Truer words were never spoken.

By going through this tedious process, the Freshwater’s of the RR hope to make the school board/s collapse and resign to the demands of the RR. They have no concern regarding the cost to the taxpayer or the impact on the school system. They are making their “statement” regarding their perverted notion of religious freedom and freedom of speech. They are sponsored by deep pocket RR people. They are wannabe religious martyrs for the cause.

Mike Elzinga said: So does this guy.

Joseph Newman?? Isn’t his name supposed to be John Galt?

Ravilyn Sanders said:

Mike Elzinga said: So does this guy.

Joseph Newman?? Isn’t his name supposed to be John Galt?

Strange as the coincidence and psychological characteristics are, this guy is for real. Physicist Robert Park has also discussed him in his book Voodoo Science.

He likes to go after college and high school students interested in physics and engineering. Several of my former students had a run-in with him and tried to get me to let him lecture in my courses as well as set up his laboratory in my lab and get me to endorse his stuff.

I think I straitened them out.

Actually, I can’t remember now if it was Newman directly or one of his followers who obtained a franchise from Newman.

Anyway, the same junk. He liked voodoo Tesla stuff also.

Note to insurance companies offering liability protection to public school boards: Either check on policies and practices of your insured districts so you can drop coverage if they’re violating First Amendment separation of church and state (probably not how you want to spend your time), OR insert an exclusion into your policies for any damages awarded for such violations, including out-of-court settlements (much easier, will prevent multi-million payouts, and will send a message to districts that you’re not going to cover their asses if they willfully or ignorantly screw up like that).

Also from Richard’s first news story link:

teachers in the future will have to attend classes on First Amendment, religion and public education.

I was hoping there would be something like this in the settlement.

MPW said:

Also from Richard’s first news story link:

teachers in the future will have to attend classes on First Amendment, religion and public education.

I was hoping there would be something like this in the settlement.

… and hopefully these classes won’t be taught by one of David Barton‘s disciples.

Ron Scott said: If you only knew what I’ve been thinking There would be people knocking on my door today

They knocked on this guy’s front door but forgot to check his back yard. Yet another inexplicable miscarriage of common sense.

Just a question: What was the total cost to the school board in Dover, PA, over the Kitzmiller thang?

OrangeG said:

Just a question: What was the total cost to the school board in Dover, PA, over the Kitzmiller thang?

I recall about $1 million. For a year or 2 I asked if anyone heard whether the alleged multimillionaire supporters of anti-evolution activist groups helped out, but I never received an answer.

Just a question: What was the total cost to the school board in Dover, PA, over the Kitzmiller thang?

IIRC, the ACLU and Pepper/Hamilton asked for, and were awarded, just over one million dollars in legal fees and damages. They were somewhat gracious in this regard, as they were actually entitled to about $2.2 million if all the fees were calculated at strictly market rates.

This does not include the Dover districts legal fees, which, after the Discovery Institute bailed on them, would have been substantial.

I also recall that, for whatever reason, the district was stuck with the tab as their liability coverage did not fully cover the award (I recall something about the criminal perjury of the board members violating the “good faith error” clauses in the policy).

MPW said:

Also from Richard’s first news story link:

teachers in the future will have to attend classes on First Amendment, religion and public education.

I was hoping there would be something like this in the settlement.

Yeah, I should have mentioned that directly. That was one of the requirements the parents have wanted in any settlement from the beginning. The first such workshop for teachers in the district was held last week, run by attorneys for the board and from the Ohio Education Association. I’m trying to get a copy of the slides they used.

stevaroni said:

Just a question: What was the total cost to the school board in Dover, PA, over the Kitzmiller thang?

IIRC, the ACLU and Pepper/Hamilton asked for, and were awarded, just over one million dollars in legal fees and damages. They were somewhat gracious in this regard, as they were actually entitled to about $2.2 million if all the fees were calculated at strictly market rates.

This does not include the Dover districts legal fees, which, after the Discovery Institute bailed on them, would have been substantial.

I also recall that, for whatever reason, the district was stuck with the tab as their liability coverage did not fully cover the award (I recall something about the criminal perjury of the board members violating the “good faith error” clauses in the policy).

IIRC, the Dover Board’s attorney also advised against their proposed policy. Going against his advice apparently also affected the insurance payout.

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This page contains a single entry by Richard B. Hoppe published on August 27, 2009 11:21 AM.

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