Request to dismiss suit against school officials pending

Contractor claims remark hurt firm's credibility

July 08, 1999|By David L. Greene | David L. Greene,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore County judge will decide in two weeks whether to dismiss a defamation suit against top Carroll County school officials.

The complaint was filed in April by James W. Ancel, a Towson contractor hired to build Cranberry Station Elementary School in Westminster. In his suit, Ancel alleges that school officials -- Superintendent William H. Hyde, Assistant Superintendent Vernon F. Smith Jr. and school board attorney Louis J. Kozlakowski -- were wrong to claim that his contract was terminated because he wasn't going to finish the work on time.

Ancel claimed the contract was terminated because the school system did not receive an apology from him after the two parties disagreed over a rock-removal incident.

At a hearing in Towson yesterday, Baltimore County Circuit Judge Kathleen G. Cox heard arguments on a motion by the school system to dismiss the suit or offer summary judgments. She did not make a decision.

Ancel's attorney, William M. Huddles, said his client suffered a blow to his credibility because completing projects on time is important in the construction business.

"It's the cornerstone of a contractor's reputation," Huddles said. "This is devastating."

School system lawyers said school officials had a right to explain their position on why the contract was terminated, which they did during two events noted in Ancel's complaint -- a board meeting and a news conference, both on March 10. The officials, attorney Douglas Biser said, presented their concerns about Ancel's work that led to the termination, but they in no way defamed him.

Ancel is seeking over $45 million in damages. The complaint is part of a suit filed by the contractor that accuses school officials of doctoring videotapes of board meetings and otherwise limiting Ancel's access to public information about Cranberry Station.

While Cox picked apart arguments from both sides, she sternly questioned why Ancel's attorneys had not presented proof that school officials tampered with videotapes.

"You're asking me to draw inferences of fraudulent conduct with these tapes when you've got no evidence," the judge said.

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