Wednesday, November 17, 1999

Talawanda suit testimony begins

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Attorneys and witnesses painted conflicting portraits of former Talawanda School Superintendent Dennis Leone in federal court Tuesday.

        Scott Greenwood, attorney for Martin and Diana Stamler, said Mr. Leone intimidated and humiliated the Somerville couple and others into silence after they publicly criticized him.

        “You'll hear that it was reasonable for taxpayers like the Stamlers to stop going to Talawanda school board meetings and to stay away from criticism of elected officials and appointed leaders,” he said in opening statements in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati.

        But Mr. Leone's attorney, R. Gary Winters, told the jury in his opening statement that Mr. Leone was an effective, responsible school official who acted with compassion toward the Stamlers' son, David, and who never retaliated against the Stamlers for criticizing him.

        In a $2 million civil-rights lawsuit, the Stamlers have accused Mr. Leone and Talawanda school board member Edward Erickson of violating their First Amendment right to criticize the job performances of public offi cials.

        The Stamlers say Dr. Leone made derogatory statements about them and that he and Mr. Erickson tried to persuade local newspapers to publish their son's disciplinary record and forced guidance counselors to lie about them.

        The younger Mr. Stamler, now a junior pre-medical student at Miami University, admitted in court Tuesday that he and four other students were caught smoking marijuana in a car during a lunch period in Oxford in November 1994.

        One student was expelled, and Mr. Stamler and the other three students were suspended for three days and ordered to undergo counseling.

        But Mr. Stamler denied smoking marijuana and didn't go to counseling. School officials notified him in January 1985 that he might be expelled.

        Mr. Stamler testified that at that point, he admitted to his parents that he had smoked marijuana. In a disci plinary hearing with Mr. Leone, Mr. Stamler pleaded no contest on the advice of his attorney.

        Mr. Leone agreed to allow Mr. Stamler, who was a senior, to remain in school and to graduate if he refrained from violating any school rules for the rest of the school year.

        Mr. Stamler acknowledged that he failed to maintain a spotless record. He said he received two demerits, one for being tardy and one for stealing his girlfriend's detention slip. He said Mr. Leone followed him into the school parking lot one day and saw him park in a parking spot reserved for visitors. He said he parked illegally because the spot was close to the school entrance and he was afraid of being late.

        Mr. Stamler said he received a letter from Mr. Leone informing him that Mr. Leone had seen him come to school late and didn't want him to jeopardize his graduation.

        Under cross-examination, Mr. Stamler admitted Mr. Leone could have expelled him for the violation, but did not.

        Mr. Stamler also said he was fired from his co-op job with Miami for failing to report an accident in a delivery van he was driving.


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