Ok­la­homa schools su­per­in­ten­dent sued

The Oklahoman - - NEWS - BY NOLAN CLAY Staff Writer nclay@ok­la­homan.com

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.

BY JIM BECKEL, THE OK­LA­HOMAN AR­CHIVES]

In this 2015 photo, Ryan Owens shakes hands with state schools Su­per­in­ten­dent Joy Hofmeis­ter at the state Capi­tol.[PHOTO

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