Accusations fly in school bullying lawsuit – Vice Chairwoman of Brunswick Town Council speaks out

  • Mail this page!
  • Delicious
  • 0

BRUNSWICK — The attorney for the School Department believes a local radio host violated a court-ordered confidentiality agreement pertaining to a recent federal lawsuit during an on-air broadcast last week.

Meanwhile, the new information Jim Bleikamp revealed in the scathing May 5 broadcast prompted the vice chairwoman of the Town Council to speak out as the first town official to publicly criticize the department’s handling of the lawsuit.

The alleged breach of confidentiality was made after Bleikamp, who runs WCME in Fort Andross, decided to broadcast transcripts from depositions in a federal bullying lawsuit the department settled for $125,000 last fall.

But whether there was a violation is unclear.

In an email Wednesday, the plaintiff’s attorney wrote that no written or oral confidentiality agreement ever existed to protect the depositions.

The School Board has taken no public action against Bleikamp in the six days since the broadcast.

However, on Wednesday the Board met for an hour in executive session with school attorney Melissa Hewey.

After the meeting, Hewey repeated her claim that all depositions were made confidential through “correspondence” with the plaintiff’s counsel.

The lawsuit was thrust back into the public spotlight last week after the Associated Press published on May 1 the firsthand account of then-junior high school student Chaz Wing.

Perzanoski defended the department against what he called “unfounded allegations” in a letter to the community the next day, noting the settlement did not constitute a statement of guilt by school officials.

Email warnings

Bleikamp told The Forecaster he obtained copies of the depositions on May 3, two days after the AP article was published.

The following day – the day before the broadcast – he wrote on the WCME Facebook page that he intended to read the transcripts the next morning.

Later that day, Hewey sent an email to Bleikamp advising him against reading the depositions because it would violate a court-ordered confidentiality agreement.

“Please be aware that if material from those depositions are disclosed, you and the person or persons from whom you obtained them will be in contempt of court and may be subject to sanctions,” she wrote.

Hewey attached a multi-page confidentiality order to her email. Under a section about depositions, it states, “depositions, in whole or in part, shall be designated on the record as ‘confidential – subject to protective order’ at the time of deposition.”

It also notes that confidentiality “shall be specific as to the portions to be designated ‘confidential – subject to protective order.'”

Bleikamp went ahead with the broadcast regardless – and then posted Hewey’s email to Facebook with the comment, “It didn’t work.”

In an email May 8, Hewey wrote, “The record (of confidentiality) is in communication between counsel as is contemplated by the order, not in anything filed by the court.”

Responding to a question Wednesday night as to whether the record was verbal, she said no.

Later that night, at 10:38 p.m., Wing’s attorney, David Webbert, sent an email challenging Hewey’s claim.

“I strongly disagree with Melissa Hewey that the depositions in this case are covered by the Court’s Confidential Order. There was no written or oral agreement,” Webbert wrote.

Deposition dump

Bleikamp told his listeners he wanted to provide “a look at aspects of the case that have not been widely reported on “when he read portions of transcripts from two court depositions.

“I believe that the community has a right to know something about the demeanor of Melissa Hewey and the nature of the questions,” he later said in an interview.

The first transcript allegedly contained parts of Hewey’s interview of Wing where he describes how his bullies administered a form of harassment called “the gay test.”

On air, Bleikamp said Hewey was “trying to suggest that he invited the attack, and that he may have even enjoyed it.”

“The attack” referred to Wing’s claim that he was raped by his bullies three times between November 2011-April 2012.

Unlike the other forms of bullying and harassment he said he was subject to, Wing reported the alleged rapes to police several months after he said they occurred.

A juvenile prosecutor with the Cumberland County District Attorney’s Office did not press charges after reviewing a police investigation into the claims, Cmdr. Mark Waltz said Wednesday.

The school department also conducted an internal investigation of the allegations.

In a second deposition, Bleikamp cited a portion where Superintendent Paul Perzanoski allegedly said he appointed the junior high school principal and assistant principal to head the investigation.

In the transcript, Webbert allegedly asks Perzanoski why he didn’t hire an independent investigator; Perzanoski allegedly responded that he wasn’t advised to by the school’s attorney.

In reading that portion of the deposition, Bleikamp told The Forecaster he wanted to expose a conflict of interest prompted by appointing the junior high school principal, Walter Wallace, to head the investigation.

“I believe the community has the right to know that the junior high school principal, (who) had a self-interest in the outcome of the investigation, was heading up the investigation (into the assaults),” Bleikamp said.

Wallace was an original defendant in the lawsuit, but charges were dropped last fall as a stipulation of the settlement.

Bleikamp acknowledged his own implication in the situation, given that he is Wing’s employer.

Wing’s identity had been previously kept private. Now 17, he has worked for Bleikamp at the radio station for the last year.

“I cop to … hav(ing) a lot of loyalty to Chaz,” he said, “(and) a lot of concern about his welfare.”

“I also feel that I am capable of reasonably and objectively analyzing the big picture here,” Bleikamp added.

Neither Board Chairwoman Joy Prescott nor Perzanoski would comment about whether they intended to respond with any legal action against Bleikamp.

However, Town Council Vice Chairwoman Kathy Wilson, who was listening to Bleikamp’s broadcast that morning, had plenty to say.

The following Monday, she went on his show and became the first Brunswick official to openly object to the department’s handling of the lawsuit.

“I was sexually abused as a kid,” she told him. “It’s not something you make up.”

In an interview the following day, Wilson said, “It appears that it was more important (for the department) to protect the school ahead of the kids.”

Referring to the lawsuit and Perzanoski’s letter following the AP story, she wondered why the school didn’t respond to the allegations by seeking to improve their policy about bullying.

“‘Let’s do something,’ – I wish that was the response,” she said.

Callie Ferguson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100, or cferguson@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @calliecferguson.

Radio host Jim Bleikamp has been accused of violating a confidentiality agreement after broadcasting parts of a deposition from a lawsuit the Brunswick School Department settled last fall. That claim has been challenged by other attorneys involved in the case.

Attorney Melissa Hewey, center, met with the Brunswick School Board May 10 after a local radio host read transcripts from a deposition on-air that she believes are confidential. The depositions were part of a bullying lawsuit the department settled last fall.

0

Reporting on municipal, school, and community news in Brunswick and Harpswell. Bowdoin graduate, Wild Oats sandwich-eater. Callie can be reached at 207-781-3661 ext. 100, or cferguson@theforecaster.net.

  • Maine Watch

    The vast majority of school districts will just blindly follow the advice of their lawyers, who are more than happy to rack up hundreds of thousands of dollars at taxpayer expense.