Schools Cut Deal in Sex Abuse Lawsuit

posted on:
June 13, 2007

author:
Staff

The Autauga County Board of Education and the parents of six children who were touched improperly by a former substitute teacher have reached an agreement in a personal injury lawsuit against the school board.

Neither the attorney for the families nor the board's attorney would reveal an exact monetary amount. However, Spud Seale, the school board attorney, said it was not a million-dollar settlement. Seale said he did not want to reveal the school board's offer before the judge approves the deal.

There are pending lawsuits filed by families of two elementary school students who also were touched improperly by the same substitute teacher, Terry Wright. Wright, 62, pleaded guilty to seven counts of first-degree sexual abuse in 2006 and is in prison.

U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller must approve the agreement before it can become final because the plaintiffs are minors. The hearing is set for later this month.

"It's (the settlement) in the best interest of those kids," said attorney Michael Crow. "Several parents told me they did not want to put their children through the nightmare any longer. They're glad it's over. They're relieved. They've been living with that nightmare for the last year and a half."

The sexual abuse charges stem from an incident in October 2004 that occurred at Prattville Elementary School. Wright's behavior was questioned a week before the incident, according to the complainant.

While he was working as a substitute at Prattville Intermediate School, students approached administrative staff saying Wright made them uncomfortable, according to court records. The civil suit was filed in 2005 with one child added to the suit in 2006.

In the suit, parents allege that the school board violated the federal Title IX law because the students were sexually harassed. School Superintendent Larry Butler and Dene Cleveland, former director of personnel, were included as defendants. Fuller found there was not enough evidence to support the claims against Butler and Cleveland and they were dropped as defendants.

"They (central office staff) put all the blame on Mr. (James) Abraham at Prattville Elementary School," Crow said. "They said he used the wrong sub list. We deposed all the principals and they said they got the November list — the updated list — Nov. 1. The incident happened a week before. It looked like they tried to cover up the initial Oct. 20 incident."

Despite the court dropping Butler and Cleveland as defendants, Crow said he thinks the outcome would have been favorable if the case went to trial.

"I put my personal beliefs and my legal beliefs aside and did what's in the best interest of those kids," Crow said. "We had a strong case. We had a very good chance of getting a substantive verdict based on the conduct of Larry Butler and the board of education."

The parties reached an agreement as the trial was set to begin.

"We had to settle for the best interest of the board and the taxpayers," said board member Arthur Wilkerson. "Going to trial there is an uncertainty. We don't know what the judge may award. It could be in the millions, and we can't afford that."

Seale said he expects Fuller to approve the agreement.

"Mr. Butler will have a prepared statement when this is done and over," he said.

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