Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Principal wins slander suit

Ex-deputy alleged racism in 'fact sheet'

By Cindy Kranz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

In 2002, Thomas Higgins was principal of Aiken High School and set to become principal of Princeton High School. Princeton Superintendent Don Darby told Higgins he would submit his name to the school board and approval was just a formality.

But before the May 13 board meeting, when Darby planned to recommend Higgins, the Princeton superintendent was presented with a "fact sheet" that painted Higgins as a racist.

Four of the five allegations of racial discord at Aiken were later proven false. Even so, Princeton bid goodbye to Higgins.

Later that year, Higgins got a job as principal of Kings High School. But he sued the man he said is responsible for creating the fact sheet for defamation of character.

Timothy Moore, assistant principal under Higgins at Aiken, is now assistant principal at Western Hills High School. He denied the allegations, and his attorney, Carl Lewis, said there's no evidence to prove Moore wrote the fact sheet.

On Monday, however, a Hamilton County Common Pleas jury, in a 6-2 vote, agreed with Higgins, awarding him $275,000 in compensatory damages, $100,000 in punitive damages and attorneys' fees.

"It's about as an egregious of a character assassination as you'll ever see," said Randy Freking, Higgins' attorney.

In a three-day trial, the story unfolded like this:

Higgins was told his name, alone, would be submitted to the board.

On May 7, 2002, Higgins signed a consultant's contract with Princeton, which would allow him to get acclimated.

Six days later, Darby received a call from the Rev. DeQuincy Hentz, Moore's pastor at Mount Zion Baptist Church in Woodlawn, a Princeton community.

Hentz started telling Darby his concerns about Higgins. When Darby arrived at the board meeting, Hentz was standing on the steps and handed him the fact sheet. Moore, a Springdale resident and Princeton parent, testified he was nowhere nearby. But Darby said Moore was standing behind Hentz at the time.

The fact sheet stated that Higgins was a defendant in a lawsuit by an African-American student. That was true at the time, former CPS general counsel John Concannon said, but the lawsuit was later found to be without merit. Concannon said the four other items on the sheet were false and constituted a vicious attack on a good man.


E-mail ckranz@enquirer.com

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