MONTGOMERY — A state school board member from Huntsville and several Department of Education employees had numerous discussions and emails where they “discussed various options to disparage Dr. (Craig) Pouncey and to make false accusations against him public,” according to a lawsuit filed today.
Pouncey was a lead candidate last summer to be the next state superintendent until anonymous accusations that he plagiarized his dissertation years earlier while he was an assistant state superintendent were made public.
Pouncey’s lawsuit names board member Mary Scott Hunter of Huntsville; Philip Cleveland, the former interim state superintendent; Juliana Dean, general counsel for the department and board of education; and two assistant attorneys in Dean's office, James Ward and Susan Crowther.
In November, Hunter said she was the one who last summer alerted the Alabama Ethics Commission as well as officials in the Department of Education to the anonymous information about Pouncey. She said she wanted to find out what her duty was. Several board members said they disregarded the information because it came from unnamed source and looked suspicious. Some said it was an obvious smear.
The state Ethics Commission does not investigate anonymous complaints. A letter from the commission to Dean confirming its receipt of the information became public prior to the superintendent selection.
It’s still unclear where the anonymous information originated.
According to the lawsuit and attached documents, Ward, the assistant counsel, sent Dean, chief counsel, in July a memorandum titled “recommendations concerning the allegations about Dr. Craig Pouncey.” It set out four options for Cleveland regarding the anonymous letter and Ward’s recommendations, all of which were designed to hurt Pouncey, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit also says that in August, prior to the superintendent selection, Hunter attended the Business Council of Alabama conference at Point Clear and told “many people, including state legislators, that Dr. Pouncey could not be considered for the superintendent’s position due to the ethics charges, which were not true.”
The lawsuit accuses the group of conspiracy, malicious prosecution, abuse of process, invasion of privacy. It specifically accuses Hunter of defamation.
“Defendant Hunter maliciously told and/or published numerous false and defamatory statements accusing Pouncey of being under investigation by the Ethics Commission,” it said.
The board chose Michael Sentance as state superintendent in August. Sentance had withdrawn his application for the job in June, but resubmitted it later after being contacted by Dean. According to the lawsuit, Hunter asked her to contact him.
“Defendant Dean then called Mr. Sentance and falsely told him that the board of education members wanted him to reconsider when in fact only defendant Hunter expressed a desire for Sentence to reconsider.”
Pouncey is the Jefferson County Schools superintendent. The lawsuit was filed this morning in Montgomery County Circuit Court.
Pouncey’s attorney, Kenny Mendelsohn, said he’s seeking unspecified damages.
“Damages are kind of like a score card, they measure how bad things were,” Mendelsohn said today. “I am going to do everything I can to get his dignity back.”
Hunter’s voicemail message and automatic email reply say that she is out of the country. A spokeswoman for the Alabama Department of Education says they don’t have a comment on the civil matter.