Attorney seeks school records

WARREN – An attorney for a former city schools employee is asking a judge to compel district officials to honor a public records request his office made in November.

On Monday, Frank Consolo, attorney for Kristen Lewis, said his law firm filed the complaint Jan. 10 in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court because the school district ignored a request for copies of emails sent or received by several present and former school employees.

“We made the records request before Thanksgiving and hadn’t heard anything. Now, after we filed this complaint, they’re saying our request is too broad,” Consolo said.

Warren City Schools Superintendent Michael Notar said that because the matter involves pending litigation, he could not comment on it. He referred all inquiries to David Hirt, the school district’s attorney. Attempts by a Tribune Chronicle reporter to reach Hirt by telephone on Monday were not successful.

Consolo said he will wait for a pretrial hearing before considering whether to revise the records request, which calls for the school district to release to his office copies of emails dating back to Sept. 1, 2011. A pretrial date had not been set as of Monday.

Consolo is asking for email records of 17 people, including the district’s five school board members; former Superintendent Bruce Thomas and several members of his administration; and Notar and members of his administration.

Consolo is arguing that the emails are public record as defined by Ohio Revised Code. His complaint states that the school district accepted a certified letter from his office issued Nov. 25 and that the district’s failure to comply with his law firm’s request violates the Public Records Act.

Lewis filed a lawsuit against the district and the school board in August 2012, charging that she was wrongfully terminated through a “false and fraudulent” reduction in force.

Lewis claims that she was “not terminated for just cause” but “because of her relationship and association with Thomas.” She asked for more than $25,000 in compensatory damages and in excess of $100,000 in punitive damages.

Lewis claims city school officials were aware and even supported her personal relationship with Thomas, who was superintendent when Lewis was hired.

The lawsuit named the Warren City School District, along with Board of Education members, “individually and in official capacity,” Regina Patterson, president, Patricia Limperos, Rhonda Baldwin-Amorganos, Andre Coleman and Robert Faulkner Sr.

Lewis has claimed that the layoff was disguised as a reduction in force to conceal the ”real reason” for her termination, “to deprive her of her Ohio constitutional rights,” that the school district sexually discriminated against her, interfered with and breached her employment contract, violated her right to due process and equal protection, defamed her, invaded her privacy, and negligently caused her to suffer emotional distress.

The case, also filed in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court, is pending.

The school district hired Lewis in October 2011 as its students counseling, family and community engagement coordinator. She was laid off in May 2012.

Her job was created under Thomas’ reign. Thomas, who was named superintendent in July 2011, told a Tribune Chronicle reporter that although he had previously known Lewis professionally, the two did not begin dating until after she started working at Warren.

At the time, he said he did not see anything wrong with dating Lewis although she was his subordinate, and he denied creating the $70,000-a-year position at Warren for her.

The lawsuit states that Lewis applied and was interviewed for the job, and given a two-year contract, but Thomas did not participate in the hiring process.

Further, the action claims that Thomas disclosed the relationship to school board members.

Lewis claims that Thomas was not disciplined by the board and that his position as superintendent was not terminated, but he resigned when it became apparent the school board was retaliating against Lewis because of the relationship.

Just one year into his three-year contract, Thomas resigned from his post, informing board members through an email that he had ”become increasingly less comfortable with the decisions the board has been making.”