Freshwater Day 31: A School Board Member's Ethics Problem

The 31st day of the administrative hearing on whether John Freshwater should be terminated as a Mt. Vernon Middle School science teacher was supposed to be today, but after 2 hours and 15 minutes of private conferences among the attorneys and referee the hearing was abruptly adjourned until January 22, 2010.

In addition, I have learned that a new member of the Board of Education, Steve Thompson, has started engaging in private efforts to produce a settlement without authorization or discussion by the Board of Education, thereby exposing the Board to significant legal jeopardy. Both are described below the fold.

Another Postponement

The full text of the statement made for the record by the referee was as follows (courtesy of the court reporter). This is the entirety of the on-the-record proceedings today:

We’re going to go on the record here at 11:16 by the clock on the wall for the purpose of entering a statement, which I’m going to make, into the record that is as follows:

“Even though this proceeding is not bound by the Civil Rules of Procedure, in the spirit of those it is my opinion that if we were to proceed today it very well might create an unfair advantage to one side or the other, and in an effort to avoid that circumstance, we’re going to conclude the proceedings for today and reconvene one week from today, 9:00 a.m., Friday, January 22, 2010.”

Neither the MSM reporters nor I were able to get any comment from the Board’s attorney about what might have led to that statement. My own private opinion is that once again the dog ate R. Kelly Hamilton’s homework: I suspect he was not ready for the Board’s rebuttal case. Another hypothesis from a spectator at the hearing is that R. Kelly Hamilton, Freshwater’s attorney, has “new information” and wants to re-open his case. I dunno. R. Kelly seems to think he’s Perry Mason.

On the schedule today was the windup of cross examination of John Freshwater and the beginning of the Board’s rebuttal case. David Millstone, the attorney for the Board of Education, had a number of witnesses scheduled to testify today in the rebuttal case, including two former members of the Board of Education who were in office when Freshwater offered his Intelligent Design Network Objective Origins Science Policy to govern the science curriculum in biology, a proposal that was rejected by the Board of Education in 2003. Now all those witnesses and the witnesses scheduled to testify January 22 will have to be rescheduled.

A Board Member’s Ethics Problem

Earlier this week two new Members of the Mt. Vernon Board of Education, Paula Barone and Steve Thompson, were sworn in. Thompson has been a public supporter of John Freshwater’s efforts to retain his position and prevail in the various lawsuits that are under way. In fact, Thompson has been a member of a group formed specifically to raise money for Freshwater’s legal defense fund, the so-called “Community Council for Free Expression.” It is of no little interest that a link to that group which was formerly on a site called, set up to publicize Freshwater’s side of the issue, has been removed, probably because attention was drawn to Thompson’s conflict of interest during the Board election campaign. However, thanks to the Internet Archive that page is still available, and while the link has been removed the page is still accessible via the bibleonthedesk site. Just for the record I’ve archived that, too.

So we now have a Member of the Mt. Vernon Board of Education who has been active in supporting and raising money for a legal case against the Board. AFAIK that’s not legally problematic in and of itself–the voters can elect whoever they wish–but it raises a big red flag when that Member starts operating independently of the Board’s policy in legal matters, and Thompson has done that.

Within an hour after his first meeting as a member of the Board this week, Thompson himself initiated a private conversation with Steve Dennis, father of Zachary, in which he (Thompson) broached the idea of some sort of global settlement with Freshwater. He asked Dennis if he brought Dennis some kind of settlement proposal would Dennis entertain it. Dennis told Thompson that the family had already settled with the Board and in any case any proposed settlement should go through counsel. (Added in edit: See the elaboration below in comments.)

Now think about that. We have a brand new member of the Board of Education, which is a defendant in a legal case brought by Freshwater, a member of the Board who was–and still is, as far as one can tell–a member of a fund-raising committee for Freshwater to support his legal actions against the Board of Education, and that Board member on his own hook initiates a private conversation about a potential legal settlement with another party to two federal lawsuits involving Freshwater. I wonder where Thompson learned about the legal and fiduciary responsibilities of members of Boards of Education, and I seriously wonder who the hell he thinks he is to broach that issue on his own after just one Board meeting at which nothing concerning the legal cases was discussed.

I think the Board of Education needs to take a long and careful look at Thompson’s continuing private activities on behalf of Freshwater while he is a member of that Board. Thompson should be required by the Board President to absent himself from executive sessions concerning the legal cases and to recuse himself from voting on those legal matters, since he is continuing his activities on behalf of a man who is suing the Board in federal court. Otherwise the Board and the school district will be exposed to significant legal jeopardy by his participation.