Suit against school officials goes forward

August 01, 1999|By David L. Greene | David L. Greene,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore County judge has decided there is enough reason to let a defamation suit against top Carroll County school officials move forward.

The lawsuit, filed in April by James W. Ancel -- a Towson contractor who was hired to build Cranberry Station Elementary School in Westminster -- alleges Superintendent William H. Hyde, Assistant Superintendent Vernon F. Smith Jr. and school board attorney Louis J. Kozlakowski harmed his reputation by saying that his contract was terminated because he wasn't going to complete the building on time. Ancel is asking for $45 million in damages.

The school system sought to have the case dismissed, saying the statements -- made during a board meeting and news conference March 10 -- were opinions of the school system and not fact.

But Circuit Court Judge Kathleen G. Cox, in an opinion released Friday, disagreed. The key, she said, was that listeners could have interpreted the statements about Ancel to be statements of fact.

The judge also declined to dismiss most of Ancel's allegation that school officials limited his access to public information about Cranberry Station.

School officials could not be reached Friday. Ancel's attorney, William M. Huddles, said he was pleased with the decision: "It leaves intact almost every significant aspect of our case."

Sun staff writers Jennifer Sullivan and Joan Jacobson contributed to this article.

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