School Board member seeks $5 million damages | Arkansas Blog

Friday, June 3, 2011

School Board member seeks $5 million damages

Posted By on Fri, Jun 3, 2011 at 11:25 AM

Pulaski County School Board member Gwen Williams has filed the lawsuit her attorney had threatened over the finding by a sheriff's investigation that fellow School Board member Tim Clark and Mills High Principal Michael Nellums had worked together on a plot to make a video in which Williams appeared to take a bribe.

She seeks $5 million in damages — $1 million each for pain and suffering, mental anguish and damage to reputation and $2 million in punitive damages.

The video was distributed to School Board members last year. Prosecutor Larry Jegley recently concluded that Williams had committed no crime, but said that people working for Nellums and Clark had participated in a "juvenile" plot to discredit Williams. Jegley offered no theory for the scheme, but it likely was aimed at getting Williams off the School Board, then locked in a battle over whether to recognize the teachers' union. Williams was seen as a union supporter, with Clark and Nellums, who's also a Little Rock School Board member, on the other side.

I reached Willard Proctor, who's been Williams' attorney, but he abruptly ended the call, saying he'd call back. He hasn't yet. But here's a copy of the lawsuit, with some exhibits. It names Clark, Nellums and Ervin Bennett, who played the fictional person portrayed as offering Williams a cash payment for influence on a non-existent sidewalk contract. It accuses them of a civil conspiracy against Williams and also says that Clark and Nellums, as school board members, should have known the damage their actions would cause.

Mostly, the complaint replays facts outlined by the sheriff's file. It includes a mention that Clark had tried to plant the fake video story with Bill Lawson, a Maumelle Monitor news reporter, before videos were distributed to School Board members. Lawson encouraged Clark to go to authorities. (Lawson tells me that he told Clark that someone who's aware of a felony and doesn't report it could be guilty of a crime himself. He said as soon as Clark left his office, he reported it to authorities himself. Clark never did.)

The Pulaski County School District has released this statement:

The District learned today that PCSSD Board Member Gwen Williams has filed a lawsuit against another board member and others that will play out in the courts in the coming months. Although the District is indirectly involved in this litigation, the lawsuit is a private civil matter between parties which makes further comment by the District highly inappropriate. Our focus will remain on educating students as we prepare for an exciting, upcoming school year.

Nellums was suspended by Superintendent Charles Hopson after Jegley's report was issued. He's made few comments on the case. Clark has insisted he did no wrong and only urged a man with allegations about Williams to go to authorities. But records show dozens of calls between Clark and the impostor and evidence also indicated he'd met with Bennett's brother, allegedly giving him money in a Ritz cracker box on one occasion at a convenience store.

The lawsuit has been assigned to Judge Wendell Griffen, who happens to preside in the court where Proctor was a judge until he was removed from the bench for unethical activities.

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