Judge yet to rule on RH dispute

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 29, 2004

Months of legal wrangling over the fate of the much-beleaguered Rock Hill School Superintendent may finally be over before Friday.

Lawrence County Common Pleas Judge Richard Walton said Wednesday morning he would rule within 48 hours on a lawsuit filed by longtime Rock Hill school superintendent Lloyd Evans against the district's board of education.

Walton heard from attorneys on both sides of the matter Wednesday.

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"I'll cite this case based on the law," Walton said. "I don't live in the Rock Hill district, don't have property in the Rock Hill district, no one in my family attends school in the district, I have no connection to it."

In his argument, Evans' attorney, David Kessler, argued three members of the school board acted illegally when they met for a special February session. The board voted to non-renew Evans' contract with the board during that meeting. Kessler argued that vote was invalid since the action took place in an illegal session. He further argued the board made the decision to non-renew Evans behind closed doors, which is also illegal.

Evans was given a five-year contract by the previous board in November 2003, just after the election when the board's make-up changed.

The decision by the lame duck board was invalid, Kessler said, because it was awarded without a public hearing or public comment period, which is required under a new law that took effect in September 2003.

"That statute became effective after he retired and was rehired by the board," Kessler said. "… It does not apply, then."

Kessler said the board compounded the problem by failing to notify Evans by March of their decision to non-renew him.

Attorney Peter Lusenhop, hired by the new school board to represent it on the matter, argued the law that went into effect in September 2003 does, indeed, apply to Evans, since his contract extension was given to him after the law took effect.

Lusenhop also argued that the board did not deliberate on Evans' non-renewal in the February special meeting executive session, and the board's decision to seek legal counsel on the matter was not illegal.

As for Evans not receiving notice by May 1 of his non-renewal, Lusenhop argued that Evans took elaborate measures to avoid being served with his non-renewal notice, including taking a last-minute trip out of town that began minutes after the board meeting, ending only after the deadline for notification had passed.

"His story doesn't hold water," Lusenhop said. "It was all too convenient."

Evans is seeking to be reinstated as superintendent with back pay.

"I don't know what the judge is going to rule, but I'm very hopeful that it's going to be favorable," Evans said. "The district now has received bills in excess of $99,000 for (legal fees) and that's not including October and November.

"This is money that could have been spent on the educational programs for children," he said. "And that's what it's intended for originally, not to try to get even with somebody or carry out a grudge."

Evans has said previously the board's attempt to remove him from office stems from one member's personal vendetta against him for his refusal to hire a relative of the board member.

For his part, Evans said he is anxious to hear the judge's decision.

"I'll definitely be glad to get it behind me," he said.

Kevin Cooper contributed to this story.