Oklahoma schools superintendent sued
A prosecution witness in the 2016 criminal case against state schools Superintendent Joy Hofmeister blames her in a lawsuit for the loss of his job.
“The claim is entirely untrue and unsupported,” Hofmeister said Friday.
The witness, Ryan Owens, was executive director of a state association of school administrators and principals. He abruptly quit at the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration on Nov. 8, 2016, days after Hofmeister was charged.
He sued Hofmeister, his former employer and former association official Jerry Needham on Wednesday in Oklahoma County District Court.
Owens, 34, seeks actual damages in the wrongful termination case for lost wages, mental anguish and emotional distress, humiliation, sleeplessness and harm to his professional reputation.
The lawsuit specifically alleges Hofmeister “contacted Needham either directly or indirectly and prevailed upon him to cause the association to terminate Owens’ employment.” Needham was then chairman of the association’s executive committee.
The lawsuit alleges Needham told Owens he could not be trusted since he “was a witness for the state.” Owens “signed a letter of resignation under coercion of immediate termination,” according to the lawsuit.
Hofmeister and four other defendants were accused in the criminal case of wrongdoing in her 2014 campaign. Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater dropped the case last year “pending further investigation.” The DA said last month the case against Hofmeister will not be revived.
Hofmeister, a Tulsa Republican, easily won reelection Tuesday.
The association declined to comment Friday because the lawsuit involves a personnel matter. Needham, superintendent of Oktaha Public Schools, said Friday, “Anyone can sue anybody at any time . ... I will have a defense with merit.”
The accusations in the criminal case involved a 2014 TV attack ad critical of the incumbent superintendent, Janet Barresi. Prosecutors accused Hofmeister of illegally colluding with a newly created group responsible for the ad.
The association provided $100,000 of the new group’s funding. Owens was involved in both setting up the group and helping Hofmeister in her 2014 campaign. He was then the association’s general counsel.
Among those charged with conspiring with Hofmeister was Steven Crawford, the association’s executive director in 2014.
In this 2015 photo, Ryan Owens shakes hands with state schools Superintendent Joy Hofmeister at the state Capitol.[PHOTO