William C. Foil, Sworn.
By Mr. Gergel:
Q. I want you to focus on a date of December 5, 1990. Do you remember that to be the day that the first letter to the editor was written?
A. I think that’s probably correct.
Q. Prior to December 5, 1990, did you understand that Ms. Hall’s classroom performance was good?
A. I believe it was recommended, observed by the principal and recommended each year. Yes.
Q. Her contract was renewed every year in the normal course, is that right?
A. That’s correct.
Q. No stipulations were ever put on the contract, were they?
A. That’s correct.
Q. Now, I’m going to hand you, Dr. Foil, a copy of the Plaintiff’s Exhibits so that you might refer to them as I question you, sir. I ask you, sir, if you could refer to Exhibit 40. Now, did you on or about December 5, 1990, read Exhibit 40?
A. Yes, I did.
Q. And you noted in there Ms. Hall’s assertion that sending of the board members to California for a conference was waste, did you not?
Q. And you thought it was improper for Ms. Hall to call the trip waste, didn’t you?
A. Yes, I did.
Mr. Childs: I want to point out here, we don’t have a jury, but I’m sure the Court would instruct the witness you have to answer yes, or no, but then you have a right to explain your answers, and I’m not objecting to all these leading questions because I don’t think there is a point to it, and I recognize he’s probably categorized as a hostile witness….
By Mr. Gergel:
Q. And I believe in there, going down to the next to the last paragraph, Ms. Hall referred to the absolute gall of board members trying to spend money this way. Do you see that, sir, on the second line on the next to last paragraph, ‘Just last week in Marion County six local board members had the absolute gall to request $11,000?’
A. Yes, I see that.
Q. You thought it was improper for Ms. Hall to put that in the newspaper, didn’t you?
A. Yes, I do.
Q. If you would refer to Exhibit 46, do you recall there the letter to the editor of December 12, 1990, called ‘security reasons not reasonable?’ Do you remember that letter?
A. Yes, I do.
Q. That was sort of aimed at you, wasn’t it, Dr. Foil?
A. It named me, I believe.
Q. Then if you would look at Exhibit 50, sir, there was still another letter to the editor on December 19, 1990, was there not?
A. You have three on this page.
Q. Do you see one that says, ‘School Board Junket?’
A. Yes, I see it there.
Q. We’re not talking about the fire department, are we? You didn’t pay much attention to that, did you?
A. I did not.
Q. You were concerned with the one entitled, ‘School Board Junket,’ is that right?
A. Yes. It deals with a James Smith, I believe it was.
Q. You saw they [the letters] were holding up the board to public criticism, isn’t that right?
A. That’s correct.
Q. It was holding you up to scorn, wasn’t it, that’s how you saw it?
A. It was calling me a liar.
Q. And the board members were upset about these letters, weren’t they?
A. They were irritated with them, yes.
Q. Were they upset?
A. Irritated, I believe, means upset, sir.
Q. Turn to Exhibit 4, if you would. I believe this is a memorandum from you to the board dated December 21, 1990. Is that correct?
A. That is correct.
Q. You’re reporting to the board, ‘We, C. LeGette and I, cannot say that the barrage of opinions and innuendoes does not bother us.’
A. I said that.
Q. You based that upon your opinion, your knowledge of Ms. LeGette’s feeling…?
A. She was Mrs. Hall’s Principal, yes, we had talked.
Q. You said, ‘The trick is not to let her know,’ her being Ms. Hall?
Q. Then, I want you to focus on the last sentence of that paragraph. You say, ‘Maybe enough rope will allow our gadfly,’ and is that Ms. Hall?
Q. ‘To suspend herself in an awkward position. Hopefully it will be an uncomfortable one.’ You were referring to the fact that you were hoping you could catch something on her in her employment, were you not?
A. I don’t think that’s the case, no.
Q. Well, do you remember me asking you that question in your deposition?
A. I do remember the question. I don’t recall my response.
Q. Do you recall me asking you, I said ‘Just explain to me what you mean by giving someone enough rope to hang themselves. What are you talking about there?’ What was your answer?”
Dr. Foil sat inflexible throughout his hours of testimony, frozen to the witness stand, answering tersely and dispassionately the incriminating questions posed by my attorney.
Q. Refer to page 26. I had a question on line 11. The question was, ‘Just explain to me what you mean by giving someone enough rope to hang themselves. What are you talking about there?’
A. My response was, ‘Well, if you can’t do anything about it,’ which is what I had just told you, that she had a right to do these things, ‘but perhaps she’ll do something that is intemperate herself.’
Q. What do you mean by something intemperate herself?
A. Something to create ill feelings toward her by either the community, citizens or other teachers, or perhaps the administration.
Q. You were looking for something that you couldn’t be accused of retaliating for, isn’t that right?
A. I wouldn’t say I was actively looking, but if she did something, then we would be concerned about it, yes, sir.
Q. Well…it got to a point where you couldn’t stand it any longer, you had to say something back, isn’t that right? Refer to Plaintiff’s Exhibit 7. I believe on February 7, 1991, you wrote the Board another memorandum about the Halls, is that not correct?
A. It was about the board agenda, and I don’t see anything about the Halls there.
Q. Go to the last paragraph. And you say, ‘I have asked everyone’s opinion about writing to the newspaper and then ignored their good advice and my own practice of patience by writing some of my thoughts to the editor. I could not stand to hold still any longer.’ Do you see that?
A. I see it.
Q. Then you go on at the end there and say, ‘There is an ad which I paid for in next week’s paper, the letter is enclosed, the ad will be a surprise.’ That’s what you wrote the board?
A. I did.
Q. Now, if you’ll look at Exhibit 60, I believe we will find that letter you wrote to the editor, if you’ll refer to Exhibit 60.
Mr. Childs: Excuse me. Plaintiff’s Exhibit 60?
By Mr. Gergel:
Q. I believe that is the letter you wrote—
Mr. Childs: It’s actually 61.
The Court: No, it’s 60.
Mr. Childs: Excuse me.
By Mr. Gergel:
Q. You refer to Ms. Hall’s husband, Dr. Ronald Hall…to his letters as drivel…? Do you see that?
Q. Those are pretty strong words, to be calling somebody’s work drivel. You were pretty upset, weren’t you?
A. I didn’t like what he said.
Q. Exactly. And you also referred in the next paragraph, the last couple of words, you referred to crank letters, you were seeing his efforts as a crank letter, another crank letter [FOIA requests]. Do you see that?
Q. You talked about that surprise, the ad. Let’s go to Plaintiff’s Exhibit 1. Look at the surprise you told the board about on February 7. Titled, ‘Remember This.’…It says, ‘Final Word From Bill Foil.’ That use of the final word, that was a play on words, was it not?
Q. And you were trying to send a message to Maggi Hall by this ad, weren’t you?
Q. You were not? This ad was prompted by Maggi Hall, was it not?
Q. And you were trying to send a message to Maggi Hall and the rest of the community, weren’t you?
A. No. I was sending a message to the community.
Q. About Maggi Hall?
A. About what they had been reading in the papers, yes.
Q. And you wanted to let the community know you were angry about this, isn’t that right?
A. I wanted the community to know that I had a philosophy that I subscribed to.
Q. Let’s look at…this little advertisement, this surprise you told the board about. ‘If you work for a man, in heaven’s name work for him. If he pays you wages which supply you bread and butter, work for him, speak well of him, stand by him, and stand by the institution he represents.’ That is a statement of your philosophy, is that right?
Q. Then it goes on to say, ‘if you must vilify, condemn, and eternally disparage, resign your position.’ Now, what you were stating there was, tell me if I’m correct or not, that if you’re going to criticize your employer to any great length, you should resign first? Isn’t that what you were saying?
A. If you’re going to do that publicly, I feel that it is unfair, yes.
Q. You felt she didn’t have the right to go public and criticize the district, isn’t that right?
Mr. Childs: Objection. I have been real patient over here. But he says she doesn’t have the right, is he talking about a philosophical or ethical right or a constitutional right? I think the superintendent’s position is she had a right to do all this. He didn’t agree with it. And I, you know, I don’t like the style of the questioning.
The Court: I’m not going to try to get Mr. Gergel to change his style, but I’ll ask him to rephrase it if he can.
Mr. Gergel: I’ll be glad to, Your Honor.
By Mr. Gergel:
Q. You felt like if an employee of the school district is going to criticize the organization, she should do so within the organization, and it was improper to do it publicly, isn’t that right?
A. I believe that’s correct.
Q. Now, if you’re not going to resign, and you’re going to criticize, your ad indicates that you’re going to be uprooted and blown away, isn’t that right?
A. That’s what the ad says, yes.
Q. The Final Word of Bill Foil, isn’t that right?
A. That’s what it says.
Q. …[D]id y’all hear from Dr. and Ms. Hall about this ad, did the board hear from them?
A. The board heard from them.
Q. They thought it was threatening and intimidating, didn’t they?
A. I understood that from the letter. I believe those are the words he [Dr. Hall] used.
Q. Dr. Hall actually came and spoke before the board about his concern about this threatening ad, didn’t he?
A. I believe so.
Q. Then there was a letter written back to the Halls saying that there was nothing intimidating about the ad, isn’t that right?
A. I don’t recall the exact wording.
Q. Well, I believe you wrote the letter. This is a letter about you, defending you to the Halls, and you wrote the letter, is that right?
A. I put the words on paper at the direction of the board.
Q. Now, how common is it to put a teacher off the school grounds under the surveillance of a principal, how common is that?
A. It happens.
Q. In your district?
A. The first time in my district, yeah, but it happens frequently.
Q. …[H]aving the principal put the teacher under surveillance off the school grounds?
A. When you say having the principal, that implies that I said that. That is not the case. This was done on Ms. LeGette’s own volition, I believe.
Q. Mrs. Hall is a very active member of [Wildlife Action]…. And you learned that the Chevron Corporation had given this group based in Mullins its national conservation award as an outstanding organization in America, isn’t that right?
Q. And Mrs. Hall was invited at the expense of Chevron to come to Washington, DC to personally receive this national award, is that not correct…? And you indicated that you would not authorize her to be off those days, is that not correct?
Q. At that point, you were of the mind that she would go anyway, didn’t you?
A. I suspected that would be the case.
Q. And you saw something just put right in your platter, didn’t you?
Q. You thought you could get Maggi Hall now, didn’t you?
A. There was a possibility, yes.
Q. And you were pretty excited about it, weren’t you?
A. Not real excited. I don’t get too excited.
Q. Well, you got your public relations man to write up to the Chevron Corporation and ask them for a photo, so y’all could honor Ms. Hall back in Mullins, isn’t that right?
Q. That was a little deceptive, wasn’t it?
Q. Y’all wanted the photo so you could use it in the dismissal case, didn’t you?
Q. And you weren’t too confident about Chevron cooperating, so you went out and spent public money to hire your own photographer in Washington, DC, isn’t that right?
Q. I’ll refer you to Exhibit 27. You mentioned earlier that you wrote the board every Friday, but May 22 wasn’t a Friday, was it?
A. I don’t recall the dates of that year.
Q. Let’s assume for purposes of this questioning it is a Wednesday. You don’t normally write on Wednesday, do you, to the board?
A. I write whenever we have things like the bus accident which this memo ended with, it’s very important that the board be kept informed about events of this type where a student may be injured.
Q. But that was the second issue addressed. The first issue was Maggi Hall, wasn’t it?
A. I don’t always start with that which is most important.
Q. But the title of it is—what’s the title?
A. A report on our most professional teacher.
Q. That is a pretty sarcastic comment, wasn’t it?
A. I tend to be flip sometimes, yes.
Q. Number 8. The photographer has not yet called to report success-failure. Now, success, ultimate success, for you was to get a picture of Maggi Hall in Washington, DC, wasn’t it?
A. That’s correct.
Q. You thought it would be good to catch her up there, didn’t you?
A. It would be a clear-cut act of insubordination, yes.
Q. It would be good because then you could fire her for it, isn’t that right?
A. At this time we had great reasons to dismiss her, but this would be clear-cut.
Q. And by this day you were getting pretty excited waiting for the picture, weren’t you?
A. I don’t get real excited about a lot of things.
Q. You might not. Now, you just said a minute ago, Dr. Foil, you don’t get excited about much, and I asked you at page 75, line 21, ‘Y’all were excited about it, weren’t you?’ What was your answer?
Q. So, not much excites you, but this was pretty exciting, wasn’t it?
A. Apparently, I said it was.
Q. All that hope, I believe, turned to disappointment when the photo arrived, didn’t it?
A. It was not Maggi Hall.
Q. Refer to Plaintiff’s 33-B. Is that the photo you got from the photographer you spent $300 of district money on?
A. It appears to be.
Q. Who is getting the award?
A. A young lady.
Q. I believe that is Maggi’s 16 year old daughter Erin, who was getting the award for her mother, is that right?
A. It was identified to me that that’s who it was.
Q. And when you got this picture, you were disappointed, weren’t you?
Q. If you would, sir, refer to Exhibit 28. Now, we’re two days later on May 26, and I believe by this point you have seen the picture is that not right?
A. Yes, I believe it was.
Q. If you go to number 4, you talked about ‘Bruce Davis called today to check on what was new. I explained my feeling like a yo-yo, nothing we have done has satisfied his desire to have clear-cut hard evidence of Ms. Hall’s whereabouts.’ Do you see that?
Q. If you’ll go to the next paragraph, sir, could you read the last sentence which begins, ‘Bruce Davis and I?’
A. ‘Bruce Davis and I agree that the reason is a bit thin but I’m ready to take the chance even if the board has to reinstate her and force me to apologize on my knees at high noon on the courthouse steps.’
Q. The case was a bit thin…. But you were trying at that point to move forward to terminate Ms. Hall, isn’t that right?
A. Yes. I was satisfied.
Q. Now, on May 24, the reason relating to Washington, DC looked pretty dismal, didn’t it?
Q. You had received the documentary evidence that the principal had gathered…? You had received the petition from the teachers asking Ms. Hall be transferred. Had you not?
Q. But on that day, May 24, you thought, notwithstanding all the information you had gotten, that the evidence against Ms. Hall on disruption was thin, didn’t you?
A. I did not have sufficient legal advice to act on that, was my opinion. I was satisfied with it.
Q. Let me ask it to you again, let me be sure you understand my question. On May 24, you thought the evidence of disruption was thin, right, Dr. Foil?
A. What was my answer?
Q. I refer to page 115 of the school board hearing. Line 24. Question, ‘On May 24, you thought the evidence of disruption was thin. Right, Dr. Foil?’ What was your answer?
A. I’m sorry. Are you on the right page?
Q. 115, line 24. ‘On May 24, you thought the evidence of disruption was thin. Right Dr. Foil?’
A. That’s what I said.
Q. I believe you began drafting a series of letters as options, is that correct? Refer to Exhibits 29 through 31, I believe those were eventually the product of…your efforts, is that right?
Mr. Gergel: Refer to page 17, Your Honor, of the school board proceeding.
By Mr. Gergel:
Q. On page 17, line 5. ‘I had drafted some letters for my own use, information late in the week, worked on them on Sunday.’ Do you see that?
A. But I had drafted these letters late in the week which meant Thursday and Friday. Working on them on Sunday was simply to refine them.
Q. Something else happened on Sunday, didn’t it, Dr. Foil? What happened on Sunday, the 26th?
A. I had a newspaper article appear in The State. I say we, there was an article appearing in the newspaper.
Q. Could you refer to Plaintiff’s Exhibit 91. Did you view—the headline, I believe, was ‘Teacher feud draws ink.’ Did you see it on Sunday?
A. Yes, I did.
Q. It was in a very prominent place, wasn’t it?
Q. And this was not a flattering article to you, was it, Dr. Foil?
A. I didn’t feel it was flattering.
Q. Then on Monday after this Sunday article, you go in the office and transfer Ms. Hall for disruption, is that correct?
A. That is not correct. Those letters were drafted fully on Thursday and Friday. They may have been typed on Sunday.
Q. You said at the school board hearing you worked on them Sunday?
A. Working on them means typing them.
Q. You indicated you worked on them Sunday. Are you changing your testimony about that?
A. I did not write them Sunday.
Q. But on Monday, you came in and transferred Ms. Hall for allegedly being disruptive. Is that right?
A. Yes, I did.
Q. And the press had a field day, with that…? I believe there were two color pictures of Ms. Hall in the boardroom in The State newspaper.
A. A four color picture.
Q. Now, on the 4th of June, you had Mr. Davis come in and meet with all the teachers right at the end of the school year…Mrs. Hall was already gone, wasn’t she?
Q. She wasn’t disrupting anybody up at the boardroom, was she?
Q. I ask you again, Dr. Foil, weren’t you seeking Mr. Davis’s guidance and assurance to avoid any appearance of retaliating against Ms. Hall?
A. I don’t recall the word retaliation being used in my response to that, but I would say we were concerned about any appearance of retaliation.
Q. Read your answer. This is to a question from Mr. Davis, I believe.
A. This is my answer up here?
A. ‘We had, as I said, we expressed that concern to you because we had been sensitive to that all year long and we were seeking your guidance and assurance in avoiding any appearance of retaliation, also to look at from the point of separate issues so she would not have the opportunity to screen herself off by the Freedom of Speech Rights there.’
Q. I’m asking you the question that I asked you before we read the testimony. You were hiring Mr. Davis because you wanted his guidance and assurance to avoid any appearance of retaliating against Mrs. Hall, isn’t that right?
A. I would have employed any attorney that we had employed. I would have offered that particular concern and advice to.
Q. And while Ms. Hall is out there not bothering anybody up in the district office, not causing any disruption, y’all decided to fire her, isn’t that right?
Q. Y’all did decide to fire her, didn’t you?
A. It was not while she was there. I think there was a long period of deliberation. I don’t believe there was any decision made until late June.
Q. From May 27 when you transferred her to the time of the school board hearing, had she undertaken any activities that would disrupt the school district?
A. None that I know of.
Q. These letters to the editor that Ms. Hall wrote addressed matters of public concern, do they not?
A. I’m not sure they do. It’s some expression of opinion that money was being spent and being wasted. I’m not qualified to identify that.
Q. Here’s a question, I believe, from Mr. Davis to you in your direct from the school board hearing, page 6. The question was, ‘Now, Dr. Foil, do you acknowledge that those letters of December, 1990, the one for December 5, 6, 10 and 19 that Ms. Hall wrote on these particular subjects were addressing matters of legitimate public concern?’ And what was your answer?
A. Yes, I do, if there was waste, but it was an opinion she was expressing.
Q. And you thought the expression of that opinion was improper?
Q. Dr. Foil, do you recall early in the process we requested a copy of Ms. Hall’s personnel file, do you remember that?
Q. We’ve marked Plaintiff’s Exhibit 141, which was the district’s personnel file. Is that the personnel file as it stood when you responded in June, 1991?
A. I don’t know that we had—I’m sorry. We had some Freedom of Information Act things in there, I was not aware they were in the personnel file, but essentially, this is the case, yes. Yes, I believe that’s it, without looking at every item.
Q. With the exception of the letter…advising her of the recommendation of discharge dated June 27, 1991, do you see any other indication in her personnel file that she’s a problem employee?
A. I doubt there would be anything else in here. No. I don’t see anything else in there.
Q. It’s what you would call a clean personnel file, isn’t it?
A. Relatively so.
Mr. Gergel: Thank you. No further questions.”
“In the year ’88–89,” she began, “Ms. Hall was—for those first two years that I was there, she was working out of a classroom that was in a portable…” hesitating momentarily before proceeding, “and also, as I walked around and observed, it concerned me just a little bit that a few times when I walked in she had a visitor sitting in her classroom.” She lowered her voice as she confided what appeared to be a well-kept secret, “And this was Mr. Bunny Beeson from Wildlife Action…and I just—I really didn’t—I didn’t know exactly what was going on, but it concerned me that there was a visitor there. So I think on this—this was something that I needed to watch carefully….”
“How often did you notice the presence of this visitor?” quizzed Mr. Davis.
“Not very often. Just enough to put in my head that something wasn’t quite right. So I—and I thought by moving her into the main building that if that was a problem—I wasn’t certain it was a problem—but if it was a problem, perhaps that would cause that problem to cease.”
Mr. Davis slyly glanced toward me then turned back to his witness and asked, “Did your concerns with the visits from Mr. Beeson continue during the course of the…school year?”
“Yes, they did. And it became a greater concern to me because he just wheeled his truck up right behind her car and would just come into the building, go into her classroom…. I felt that that was not a good situation….”
With her opening statement Mrs. LeGette glared at me and then at Ron, a “gotcha” smirk on her thin lips. Inquisitive eyes strained to catch my response but I remained passive as cameras shifted from witness to accused. Dr. Foil sat rigid, staring straight ahead, secure behind his wooden redoubt, unperturbed and unsurprised with her testimony. I wasn’t perturbed; I was disgusted though my face remained emotionless as the camera panned in for a closer view.
Mr. Davis then urged, “Do you recall which year you first contacted the Superintendent and shared your concerns…?”
Mrs. LeGette, hands outstretched imploringly, responded, “…The situation at North Mullins, it really didn’t become awful for me until December…. And as I try to—as I saw Maggi doing things that I thought she should not do and I wanted her to adhere to the rules, we began to have a greater problem. Every time that I would tell her that she needed to follow the rules, I could see greater resistance within her. I began reporting that to Dr. Foil. I wasn’t so terribly alarmed until December…. The Superintendent talked to me and he wanted me to be calm and be very cautious. To not respond, best thing to do is not respond, which is the hardest thing I ever had to do because I just felt like I was being attacked and could not defend myself.”
“Did he appear to be as perturbed or concerned as you were about the situation?” Mr. Davis asked.
“No, he was sympathetic to me, but he certainly didn’t share the same concern that I felt. From December on to the time that he transferred her…. I must have talked to him almost daily about something that she had done and I kept communicating this to him because I felt like it was getting to be a situation in which the school was being harmed. I was unable to carry out my duties as I should…. I didn’t know how to handle this. I didn’t know what to do. She had an attitude problem. I didn’t know how to deal with a teacher with a bad attitude.”
“What did youwant the Superintendent to do about it?”Mr. Davis questioned.
“Didn’t know…. But I kept telling him so he could tell me what could be done and he—as I said he was sympathetic to me but he urged me to be cautious. To just be careful with everything that I did. Don’t react or don’t get in any kind of a word battle; a paper battle; I was just—I kept calling him trying to get him to realize that we were sinking deeper and deeper. I—by the time we got to April, I felt like I was in a pool of quicksand and I was just trying to keep my head above water and all the teachers were leaning—they were looking to me, because the situation was so bad…that the teachers just—what can we do? She is just tearing up our school, what can we do? I didn’t know what we could do.”
When Mr. Davis asked, “Did Dr. Foil even at that point continue to urge you to hang in there with it?” his witness “helplessly” bounced back with, “To keep on going to be strong and hold everything together. As I said, he certainly was not unsympathetic. He was sympathetic to me, but he wasn’t there.”
“Did he express any interest in initiating a dismissal action of any kind at that point?”
“No. I wish that he would’ve. I needed something. I just felt like we were falling apart…. Did not feel that I could make any kind of recommendations without him guiding me as to what I could do…. I was just trying to hang on to keep things together at my school, to keep everybody focused on education.”
Mr. Davis continued, “Did you—at what point did you discuss the matter with Dr. Foil following the preparation and submission of that petition from the teachers that she be removed from her employment?”
Mrs. LeGette reiterated how she had relied on Dr. Foil’s guidance, yet strangely revealed, “…I just kept planting these things in his mind so that he would realize that we were in bad shape…. I didn’t know what to do. I was looking to him to tell me what to do…. He didn’t know what and I didn’t know what, but something had to be done and it was after that, shortly after that that he and I talked and decided that we needed to seek legal counsel…. To see what action could be taken. What could we do to stop Maggi from just jerking everybody in the school around…. He handed her a letter…that she as of that day that she would be transferred to the district office….”
“How did you feel about that?” the district attorney inquired to which Mrs. LeGette dramatically clasped her hands together in prayerful supplication heavenward responding, “Well, I went home and I told my husband that God was in his heaven and he was alive and well.”
The audience came apart with raucous laughter, applauding and guffawing like hillbillies at a rodeo. Chairman Hurrle made no attempt whatsoever to bring order to the proceedings as Mr. Gergel objected repeatedly, requesting he silence the crowd.
Once the group’s enthusiasm subsided Mr. Davis continued sympathetically, “It was that much relief to you?” and Mrs. LeGette sighed, “It was that much relief to me and to my teachers. It was just like a sign of relief….” to which more laughter followed.
“If Ms. Hall is at that school come this fall, can you have school?” Mr. Davis asked.
Mrs. LeGette lowered her voice in a monotone, leaned slightly forward in the witness chair confidng her sincerest feelings, “We’ll have a terribly difficult time having school and I’m going to tell you the truth, I’m going to be looking for another job just as hard as I can.” And with her closing testimony, “I’m going to be looking for another job just as hard as I can,” her audience literally applauded the principal’s well-prepared theatrical performance, obviously directed by her attorney husband.
Mr. Davis, evidently with something other than Mrs. LeGette on his mind, uttered, “Thank you, Ms. Hall—I mean Ms. LeGette….”
Mrs. LeGette’s direct examination was presented with calculated precision, impeccable in detail, her memory outstanding. However, during her lengthy cross-examination by Mr. Gergel, things took a decidedly different direction. Mr. Gergel began his questioning with, “Ms. LeGette…you had testified that things really got awful in December…. You used the word ‘awful.’ …Do you remember saying that?”
“I don’t remember the word I used.”
“You don’t quarrel with the word ‘awful?’” Mr. Gergel asked.
“It was awful.”
“…I presume as a professional educator, if there were problems in your school, you would be documenting them; isn’t that right?” and she admitted she would as Mr. Gergel continued. “Now, I have searched the record for something that would define just what was bothering you in December. And there is one document…from the Superintendent…right at the time where you’re supposed to be bothered by Maggi Hall….”
“Let’s look at what he put in this memo….” and Mr. Gergel walked over to the defense table to retrieve Dr. Foil’s deposition. “We’re talking here about how to put a lid on Maggi…. Did the Superintendent talk to you about how to put the lid on Maggi Hall?”
“No, he did not,” she shot back, her voice high-pitched and haughty.
Mr. Gergel continued to read, “‘…And I cannot say that the barrage of opinions and innuendoes does not bother us.’ Did he accurately reflect your attitude about these letters to the editor?”
“The letters to the editor were not the problem to me.”
“Ms. LeGette, I’m asking you did Dr. Foil accurately report to the Board that the letters to the editor bothered you. Did he accurately make that report?”
“Dr. Foil may have assumed that. We did not discuss that,” Mrs. LeGette claimed. As her cross-examination progressed, she became tense, moving forward in the witness chair, hands crawling along its dark wooden arms. Her voice lost its simpering “ladylike” weakness, modulating downward in steely defiance as Mr. Gergel made his jabbing inferences.
“Was he accurate or inaccurate? That’s my question.”
“At that point…the newspaper articles were not significant to me.”
“So he was inaccurate when he reported to the Board that these were bothering you?”
“I can’t say that he was accurate or inaccurate. We just did not have a discussion about that.”
Mrs. LeGette indignantly refuted her boss, Superintendent Foil, “No, I did not.”
“It says, ‘Maybe enough rope will allow our gadfly to suspend herself in an awkward position. Hopefully it will be an uncomfortable one.’ Now, was he sharing those kinds of thoughts with you?”
“Do you think that’s an appropriate thing a Superintendent ought to be writing his Board about, hoping he can get an employee to hang herself?”
“I would not know, Mr. Gergel. I’ve never been a Superintendent.”
“Do you think it’s appropriate to write that about your subordinates?”
“I cannot assume to say what is appropriate for Dr. Foil.”
Mr. Gergel pressed, “Do you think it’s a professional thing for someone that you supervise?”
It was now Mr. Davis’ turn to become agitated. He objected to Mr. Gergel’s line of questioning. Jumping from his chair, he quipped, “She’s answered the question three times and—”
“She’s avoided the answer three times,” corrected Mr. Gergel.
“And it’s which would be more appropriately put to the Superintendent, not to Ms. LeGette,” shot back Mr. Davis, turning toward the board, arms out flung.
But Mr. Gergel would not give up. He wanted that question answered. “[S]he’s been a Principal in this district for four years, going on her fifth—whether she thinks it’s an appropriate kind of thing to be talking about by someone’s subordinate, I think it’s a very appropriate question.”
Further disagreement ensued between both attorneys until Chairman Hurrle interrupted to explain the board’s position. “Again, we read that thing that says we’re not a Court of Law. We want to hear the facts as they are and what those facts are. So if she’s going to offer an opinion, that’s fine. Let’s make sure that we get that and finish.”
Mr. Gergel then said, “Ms. LeGette, do you think it’s a professional statement to make about a subordinate?” “The situation in which that was made was to the School Board. I have not been in that situation, so I cannot give an opinion.”
Giving up on an answer from the evasive Mrs. LeGette, whose second husband was an attorney, Mr. Gergel moved to something more incriminating. Retrieving another document from the defense table he said, “Now, next I looked for the other document stating your assessment of Ms. Hall’s performance, because you had said it was awful. And I came across an evaluation. Do you remember doing that evaluation?”
“I certainly do.”
“All these documents you put into evidence. I don’t think you put the evaluations into evidence. Was that an oversight?”
“I didn’t put anything into evidence,” she retorted sarcastically, shoulders stiffening as she rared back in defense.
“Okay. Mr. Davis left that out, not you; is that right? [D]o you recognize that document?” and he handed the paper to Mrs. LeGette.
Chairman Hurrle interjected humor. “…Mr. Davis wanted to leave something for you to put in, Mr. Gergel.”
The audience appreciated the chairman’s retort. Mr. Gergel, obviously taken aback by Chairman Hurrle’s lack of professionalism, automatically responded, “Thank you.”
Turning back to Mrs. LeGette, Mr. Gergel waited for her reply. She acknowledged that she was familiar with the document in her hand.
Mr. Gergel then questioned, “Now, I presume when you were preparing this evaluation you were doing the best job you could to be accurate; is that right?” and Mrs. LeGette agreed that she was doing her best.
“Five is superior?” he asked and Mrs. LeGette agreed. “Her final score was a 4.7 on a five-point scale…a time that’s supposed to be awful; isn’t that right?” And once again Mrs. LeGette agreed, evidently not realizing where she was painting herself.
Mr. Gergel continued. “Under the areas in need of [remediation, there is a] blank; is that right?”
“That’s exactly right.”
“Prior to April 15, the only recommendation that came from your school was an unqualified recommendation that Ms. Hall be re-employed?”
“This document,” she waved in the air as if swatting a gnat, “was a recommendation that she be re-employed, but from December on I probably talked to Dr. Foil almost every day telling him the problems that we were having…,” stammered Mrs. LeGette, suddenly realizing she was in the corner.
“Let’s talk about some things that you might have done that might suggest that you were a part of this. [H]ow often have you followed some of your teachers to their gynecologist’s office?”
“Never have I done that before.”
“But you did it to Maggi Hall, didn’t you?”
“I certainly did.”
“Parked in the Piggly Wiggly parking lot?” Mr. Gergel inquired.
“Parked in the Piggly Wiggly parking lot,” she mimicked.
“…[Y]ou didn’t mind her seeing you there, now, did you?”
“I surely didn’t.”
“So why didn’t you pull right in next to her?”
“Needed to use the telephone at Piggly Wiggly.”
“So that was the reason you didn’t pull right into the parking lot. And you were alone, of course?”
“No, I was not.”
“Who were you with?”
“My secretary was with me.”
“Who was answering the telephone at the school? This is during the school time, isn’t it?”
“Yes it is,” she responded.
“And who’s answering the telephonewhile y’all are gone, you and the secretary?”
“I can’t really remember, but she got somebody to answer the telephone.”
“And then y’all two went over looking at the Piggly Wiggly—where is this Piggly Wiggly parking lot compared to the gynecologist’s office?”
“It’s right beside it.”
But her statement wasn’t true. The telephone was attached to the wall of the grocery store which was almost a city block from my doctor’s office.
Mr. Gergel then inquired, “Was there room to park in the gynecologist’s parking lot…?”
“I don’t know.”
“You, of course, told Ms. Hall that you had followed her to her doctor’s office?”
“No, I did not.”
“You didn’t? And this was in Mullins you followed her?”
“It was in Marion.”
“Oh, you came all the way over to Marion?”
“Yes, I did.”
“Okay. And you went to the Piggly Wiggly parking lot and you only did that because you wanted to use the telephone. You weren’t trying to hide from her?”
“I needed to call the school.”
“And you weren’t trying to hide from her?” repeated Mr. Gergel, to which Mrs. LeGette denied any intentions of hiding.
“So you parked over there, and then after awhile Ms. Hall left, didn’t she?”
“She left while I was using the telephone, evidently.”
Mr. Gergel questioned, “Okay. So then you went back to school, right?”
“No, I rode by her house.”
“You rode by her house?” he questioned in absolute amazement.
Mrs. LeGette, without shame, arrogantly boasted, “Yes, I did.”
“Now, how often do you go riding by teachers houses spying on the teachers?”
“I never had the occasion to do that before, because I’ve never had a teacher like Maggi Hall.” More laughter filled the library. Evidently Chairman Hurrle enjoyed the shenanigans as much as everyone else as he joined in with the laughter.
“So it’s Ms. Hall’s fault that you went and followed her to the gynecologist and followed her home. That’s Maggi Hall’s fault?”
“I so distrusted her that I followed her.”
“And you then came back and you typed a little report up, didn’t you…and gave it to the Superintendent?”
“Yes, I did.”
Mr. Gergel then changed geographical locations from South Carolina to Washington, D.C. where I was to receive the award, getting Mrs. LeGette to admit that she called the Marriott. He accused her of tricking the clerk at the hotel into thinking she was Maggi Hall, but Mrs. LeGette denied any chicanery. Back and forth they went, Mrs. LeGette defending her bizarre investigation into my personal life.
Mr. Gergel then jumped back to South Carolina with the question, “There was a meeting at your school on April the 17th—you know what I’m talking about…then suddenly after that…all these…letters start coming in…about Maggi Hall from teachers, isn’t that right?”
“Could it be that they were so concerned about what Maggi Hall was doing to our school that they felt the need to put these things in writing?”
Mr. Gergel replied incredulously, “Spontaneously? Just doing it? You don’t think your suggestion had anything to do with that?”
“Well, it doesn’t matter if it did. If she was doing wrong things, they needed to be in writing,” she quipped.
Mr. Gergel now stood directly in front of Mrs. LeGette, rubbing his chin, thinking for a bit, then asking the ultimate implicating question. “I’m just trying to figure…you’re building a file here, ma’am…you don’t talk to her about any of these things…. You knew you were building a file, didn’t you?”
“I was,” she answered, without batting an eyelid, her face rigid.
Waiting until the end of his cross-examination, Mr. Gergel addressed the most insulting of Mrs. LeGette’s criticisms. “Now, you were complaining about Mr. Beeson coming to the school? …The Superintendent had already addressed that issue with you, had he not?”
“Yes, he had.”
“He had told you that, within reason, Mr. Beeson could come, didn’t he?”
“Yes, he had,” she acknowledged, her thin face drawn with contempt.
“And you disagreed with the Superintendent about that, isn’t that right?”
“The Superintendent was not at my school and he did not see the effect on teacher morale that that had.”
“But in here, among the things you were telling the Board…was [about] Mr. Beeson…[yet he] was there with the permission of the Superintendent, isn’t that right?”
“Within reason, but I didn’t think Mr. Beeson was coming within reason. In fact, he shouldn’t have been there was my whole thinking.”
“But you were complaining about Ms. Hall, who was doing something with the permission of the Superintendent. And you cited that as evidence of disruption…? And you even documented the Superintendent on that one, didn’t you?”
Mrs. LeGette turned the tables by interrogating the interrogator. “How did I do that?”
“Well, didn’t you write a note saying that the Superintendent had allowed him to come, but you didn’t agree with that?”
Caught off guard, she stammered, “Yes, I—no, I didn’t say I didn’t agree with that. I said—I don’t believe I said that. I wrote a note saying that the Superintendent had allowed him to come.”
“And you were documenting the Superintendent on that, weren’t you?”
“I was making a note. I was just merely making a note.”
“Remember I said, you thought Dr. Foil was wrong,” and Mr. Gergel walked over to the defense table to retrieve Mrs. LeGette’s deposition and read, “Your answer, ‘Uh-huh (yes), affirmative response. I believe you even documented that, didn’t you? I did. You thought he was wrong and you were documenting Dr. Foil’s mistake, weren’t you?’”
“I thought he was wrong, but I don’t know if I documented that he was wrong. I don’t recall that.”
While her testimony continued I reflected on Wildlife Action’s successes and our contribution to the organization. Ron’s canoe trips brought public awareness to the value of preserving the Little Pee Dee River, as did his chairmanship of the committee that worked to have it designated a state scenic river. After its designation the National Wildlife Federation, funded by the Richard King Mellon Foundation, featured WLA in the PBS documentary “Conserving America: The Rivers.” Burgess Meredith moderated, the camera crew stayed at our home for two weeks, and we all starred in it. Periodically it airs on the educational channel. In fact, in 2004 our twelve-year-old grandson Nash was shown the video in his science class in Hill City, South Dakota.
Wildlife Action also established the first environmental camp in Marion County. One reason Mr. Beeson, Jr. visited my class was to select scholarship recipients from North Mullins’ disadvantaged students. Mrs. LeGette knew the truth. She and her husband had been members of Wildlife Action for years, often accompanying Ron on canoe trips. Mrs. LeGette was also aware that Dr. Foil was a member of WLA and supportive of its programs.
According to school documents Mr. Beeson, Jr. visited the school a total of four times during the year Mrs. LeGette declared “awful.”2 Once he came to use the copier in the office as his was broken; another time he visited a class to talk about animals. But the most important time he came to the school, less than a mile from his office in this rural close-knit town, Mr. Beeson, Jr. did, just as Mrs. LeGette testified, “…wheel his truck up right behind [Maggi’s] car and…come into the building.” She failed though to share the reason why.
Wildlife Action had received a fax from the South Carolina Department of Transportation announcing its cancellation of the I-20 connector through the county. When Mr. Beeson, Jr. tore into the building he was greeted in the corridor by teachers who’d gone to school with him or were customers at his sporting goods store. They saw him waving a paper, a triumphant grin on his face. After he told them why he was there, applause filled the hall. And just as Mrs. LeGette reported, he headed straight for my classroom to let me know that a project I’d work on for years had ended in success. Thousands of acres of wetlands had been saved and for that project this successful environmental battle caused WLA to receive the national Chevron Conservation Award I was to accept in our nation’s capital.
Mrs. LeGette, a local girl who’d grown up on a pig farm, had attempted to undermine my moral character. Her testimony ultimately backfired. WLA was well respected, its members included the governor, state and national politicians, even Ted Turner. Drawing a successful environmental organization and its leaders into the district’s fight against me proved fatal to Mrs. LeGette’s credibility.
Drawn back to the present I heard Mr. Gergel say, “…I noted, Ms. LeGette…when you testified the other night…you started about [a] quarter till eight and you testified about everything before April 15, before the contract was renewed…. [It] took you through 10:30. And then there was only a short period after that, about another 30 minutes or so, that you [discussed] things after April 15. Do you quarrel with that kind of split in terms of your testimony?”
“I don’t recall it.”
“So the Superintendent knew before April 15 all these things that took you from 7:45 to 10:30 to talk about, he knew about every one of them, didn’t he?”
“Yes, he did.”
“And he recommended a renewal of the contract, didn’t he?”
“I guess he did.”
Mrs. McMillan was called first. She had volunteered at Wildlife Action’s Day Camp the summer her stepsons attended. During the Desert Storm Operation February 1991 when Mrs. LeGette testified “things were awful,” several teachers asked if I would suggest to Mrs. LeGette that students and teachers stand in the front yard of our school to show support when the Mullins’ National Guard bus passed on its way to North Carolina before our guardsmen were shipped overseas. Mrs. McMillan’s husband was on that bus.
Mr. Davis got right to the point, “What do you think about Ms. Hall?” to which Mr. Gergel stood and addressed Chairman Hurrle, “Mr. Davis needs to ask relevant questions instead of general open-ended questions.”
“I can ask any way I want to as long as it’s not leading,” he argued.
Chairman Hurrle agreed with Mr. Davis. “That’s not a leading question.”
Given the green light from the chairman, Mr. Davis proceeded. “What do you understand about her…?”
And away went Mrs. McMillan. “I don’t think she can be trusted. I don’t think she acts professionally. I don’t feel like she’s really dedicated to teaching the children at our school or to our school,” she stumbled.
Mr. Davis asked her opinion about my returning to North Mullins, to which she candidly replied that it would be “Utter chaos.”
During cross-examination by my attorney, Mr. Nickles, Mrs. McMillan continuously shifted positions to find a comfortable nook in the witness chair. She moved her hands to stroke her hair or to the arms of her chair or into her lap where they would rest only briefly before finding some other activity in which to engage. Her voice echoed her erratic motions.
Mr. Nickles queried Mrs. McMillan regarding the survey I distributed to the faculty. “Now, is there anything wrong with a teacher distributing a survey?”
“When the committee hasn’t even met I thought there was,” she responded as I wondered how she knew when the committee had first met.
“Answer my question: Is there anything wrong with a teacher distributing a survey—” but before he completed his sentence, she interrupted, “When it’s phrased that way—”
“Wait a minute. Let me finish. The way the survey was phrased; is that right?”
“And you didn’t object at all to the substance of what was being asked; is that right?”
“No, I didn’t agree with it, but I didn’t want to turn mine into Maggi Hall and used at a later date. I didn’t know if she had any authority and I chose not to. I started to. I really did and I’m going to do it and write all the good things.”
Mr. Nickles pressed on. “Well, what does it say?” he asked, handing her a copy of the survey.
“By your school district on the one we got—your employers and did not say ‘school district’ and your employers,” she blathered incoherently.
“So, the survey asked for good things?” and she reluctantly admitted, “Well, yes.”
Mr. Nickles continued. “Now Ms. Hall had the freedom to ask the questions and you had the freedom not to respond; isn’t that right?”
Mrs. McMillan shook the survey in Mr. Nickles face, protesting, “Not when this survey said that first you do not need your name and please don’t feel intimidated if you decide to respond to my questions. This is your chance to be heard and encouraged to take advantage of it. No school principals or school Board members. Your opinions go directly to the top where reform will take place. This letter to the editor she quoted or she paraphrased comments that she had written on our sign-in book after people turned in the survey to her.”
“You show me the name of a single teacher in that letter,” Mr. Nickles pushed.
She again interrupted Mr. Nickles, “That day—”
But he interrupted her. “Answer my question first, please. Show me the name of a single teacher.”
“I saw it written on our—in why didn’t Johnny read—why can’t Johnny read. Are you satisfied with your class load? Are you satisfied with your salary and satisfied with your text book and materials, and our sign-in and I ask teachers at other schools if they had received this survey. No, they had never heard of it.” Mrs. McMillan’s evasion of Mr. Nickels question becoming even more tangled.
Mr. Nickles repeated, “I would like for you to answer my question. Show me in the letter to the editor where any information is divulged about a respondent.”
“Like I told you because I knew it had no—I had talked to other teachers and they had not received it. We knew that was directed at us.”
“And you object to that, didn’t you?”
“Yes, sir, straight to the topwasn’t going anywhere and she judged them, put her opinions in the paper. And it was—it was supposedly confidential. How can she represent us as a group in the newspapers?” Mrs.McMillan asked my attorney.
Mr. Nickles reiterated, “…Ms. Hall did nothing more than report accurately expression of opinion; isn’t that right? …And there is absolutely nothing to this letter so infuriated you that identifies any particular individual’s response or what school that response came to?”
“And it worries you?”
“Yes, sir, it did,” she retorted.
“And Maggi Hall speaks, you thought for you; is that right?”
“No, she wasn’t speaking for me, she was trying to make our school look bad because I knew these comments were on the sign-in book. That didn’t—the thing that bothered me is that she can’t represent—she could not represent us. She’s entitled to hers. She can have them all she wants. Don’t drag me into her problems with the district…,” Mrs. McMillan again attempted to clarify how she felt, her remarks trailing in tortuous circles.
“And this first meeting was about the letter to the editor, isn’t that right? People might be upset about it?” prodded Mr. Nickles.
“Then you have another meeting next week, right?” Mr. Nickles queried.
“And at this particular gathering of teachers…[you] discuss[ed] the fate of Maggi Hall…?”
Infuriated by his question Mrs. McMillan objected, “No, sir, you wait. That is not what we were in there for. We did not.”
“That’s what you came out of this with,” he pointed out.
“We did not go in to discuss the fate of Maggi Hall. We went in to try to figure out what to do. We can’t stand this tension any longer.”
Mrs. McMillan never relaxed in the witness chair during cross-examination nor gave many coherent answers until the final few words of her testimony.
“You know it’s pretty clear from your responses and the tone of your voice that you’re pretty upset with Maggi Hall?”
“Yes, sir, I was,” she conceded.
“But that’s not always been the case; has it?”
“No, it’s not. I agree.”
“In fact, you worked cooperatively with her in the past, haven’t you?” as Mr. Nickles guided her along and she acknowledged, “Yes, I have.”
“And she’s been helpful in dealing with those students; isn’t that right?”
For the first time since beginning her testimony Mrs. McMillan relaxed. “If I had a problem, she would help me with it yes, she would give me her advice.”
“And your husband went away [to Saudi Arabia] and Ms. Hall was supportive of you, too.”
“There are two sides of Maggi Hall. She’s a wonderful person on that side, I agree. I mean she is and that’s what’s so disturbing about it. We could talk and everything was fine and then it was like an entirely different person than the person I said how are you and ask me about my little boy and about the same age and this was separate and apart from the Maggi that you see in the hall.”
“Did you see an ad in the newspaper back sometime in the early part of the year that was paid for by the Superintendent?”
“Yes, sir. Do you want my honest opinion about this?” she offered, her hands finally still and in her lap.
“I want you to tell the truth,” Mr. Nickles advised.
“I did not like that. I did not like that to be in the paper because I knew I—just like I saw this was directed at me, I knew who that was directed at, to Maggi Hall.”
Mrs. Rogers was the school’s librarian, a local girl born and bred in the little town. She once asked and took my advice as to whom to hire to care for her ill parent. She also memoed Mrs. LeGette regarding my alleged behavior.2
Mr. Davis began, “Ms. Rogers, did you sign the petition…to transfer…Ms. Hall…?”
“Could you tell the Board why you signed that petition?”
“I like my job. I love what I do. I don’t think it’s right that we should have to work under conditions that are so stressful that we cannot do our job effectively or efficiently. I don’t think my effectiveness as a teacher was disturbed by Ms. Hall’s actions and behaviors, but I do know my effectiveness was, my efficiency was. It took me longer to do what I needed to do. I had to think about things that I didn’t feel like we should have to be concerned about,” she contradicted herself.
Mr. Davis continued. “Now, you talked about your observations of her behavior at school meetings. Is there anything more you need to say about that?”
Mrs. Rogers took a deep breath and began. “I’d just like to say that I am very uncomfortable in a teacher’s meeting with a teacher that would rattle a newspaper when she should be paying attention to our Principal. That makes me very uncomfortable. I’ve seen Ms. Hall file her nails and read books and noticeably rattle newspapers. I’m not in the habit of watching what everybody else does at a teacher’s meeting, but she’s drawn attention to herself. She wanted us to see that she didn’t have the respect that I felt she should have.”
Mr. Davis gave Mrs. Rogers a chance to come up for air with another question. “Did her absentee records in any way concern you or cause the teachers at the school any problems or concerns?”
“Definitely it concerned me. I had to notice her absenteeism because I do morning announcements. So, I announce when Ms. Hall isn’t there and there is no resource classes. So, it’s noticeable to me when she is absent and that she is absent a lot. There was one particular time right before her birthday and—”
“When is her birthday?”
“January the 14th, I believe,” she accurately responded. What a memory, I thought, as she continued. “The week before, it was on like a Friday or so, I think, this year, and the week before or the Monday before I saw she was in the office right before I was fixing to announce and I told Ms. Hall that I would be announcing her birthday on Friday and she said, well, I won’t hear it. I said, why, and she said, I never work on my birthday and she didn’t.”
“Was she indeed absent come January the 14th?” Mr. Davis asked turning toward me for emphasis.
“Yes, she was not at school. I mean, I had to—I notice that.”
Mr. Davis then faced the audience in the library, his back to the board, repeating what his witness had just said. He appealed more to the crowd than to Mrs. Rogers when he asked, “Was she there to hear her happy birthday announcement on the 14th?”
“No, sir,” Mrs. Rogers claimed.
“She was absent as promised she would be?” he repeated moving toward the camera, arms outstretched.
When Mr. Nickles cross-examined Mrs. Rogers, he continued with the birthday absence issue. “Mrs. Rogers, you mentioned, I believe, in your testimony that it concerned and upset you that Ms. Hall said that she was going to be absent on her birthday; is that right?”
“It didn’t concern me that she—it concerned me the way she said it. She said that she would never work on her birthday.”
“And you weren’t upset that she was going to be absent on her birthday?”
“It upset me that she said, I’m going to be—I never work on my birthday.”
“Now, sometimes leave is approved in advance; isn’t it?”
“Right,” she agreed.
“And it’s approved by the Principal?” asked Mr. Nickles.
“Right,” nodded Mrs. Rogers.
“Have you ever asked for approved leave in advance?”
“And have you received it?”
Handing Mrs. Rogers a sheet of paper, Mr. Nickles said, “Let me show you something and see if you can recognize an initial for me. It says, ‘to Maggi Hall from Cynthia M. LeGette: Leave without pay January 14, 1991…is approved.’ Do you know when Ms. Hall’s birthday is?”
“January the 14th, I believe.”
“It was approved, wasn’t it?” Mr. Nickles inquired, to which Mrs. Rogers quickly clarified, “It was approved. It doesn’t bother me that it was approved or that she wasn’t there. It bothers me that she would make a blanket statement saying that I never work on my birthday.”
“When she had approved leave, did you expect her to come to work?”
∗ ∗ ∗ ∗ ∗
As the public hearing continued, so did the press coverage. Papers were full of articles, editorials, and letters to the editor. The State entitled one of its stories “Déjà vu’ in Mullins?” reminding its readers that a similar incident had recently occurred in Horry County, adjacent to Mullins. The teacher in that case had been victorious. Coincidentally, Mr. Davis represented the Horry County School Board in its failed attempt to silence the teacher who had protested against district policy.
…[T]he school board would be making a mistake to fire [Maggi] just because she has exercised her right to free speech. …[T]he major complaint seems to be that she’s had the gall to criticize district policies. The board must justify any disciplinary action against Ms. Hall with hard evidence of misconduct. Otherwise, she is likely to win a similar victory. If so, the waste of taxpayer dollars on that losing legal battle would substantially bolster Ms. Hall’s allegations of fiscal irresponsibility.3
Mrs. Jernigan was the school’s part-time art teacher. My relationship with her consisted of mutually friendly greetings in passing. Both Mr. Davis and Mrs. Jernigan were primed to act.
“Would you tell the Board, please, ma’am, why you signed that petition?” And in Mrs. Jernigan dove, head first and enjoying it.
“Well, for several reasons. One of the reasons is because on several occasions I have heard Ms. Hall make the comment that I am a professional and would like to be treated as such. Well, my opinion of a professional and hers are apparently not the same,” stated Mrs. Jernigan. “On other occasions she’s made little comments like, let’s just get this meeting over with. I have other things to do, and I’m just drawing a paycheck…. If she had spent more energy on teaching Johnny to read instead of focusing all this energy on other activities that were obviously important to her and tried to direct those energies toward teaching Johnny to read, I think Johnny would be better off.”
On a roll and looking my way, she continued. “…It seems that she just seemed that she could do like she pleased. She was not to respect authority. She would bring newspapers to our teacher’s meetings and sit there with her papers opened and rock in her little chair or she would take her keys out when she was ready and she would sit there and she would play with her keys. Obviously this is no kind of respect for whomever happens to be directing the meeting.”
At this point Mrs. Jernigan pulled from her pocket a large cumbersome set of keys and as she continued her testimony she held the keys over her head, vigorously shaking them. The audience roared with delight over her noisy props, as did every member of the school board. Chairman Hurrle made not the slightest attempt to control the crowd.
Completing her description of me, she enthusiastically described, “…When she was ready to leave, she just popped up out of her chair and sashays out the door, skirts flying, hair flying. I mean, when the woman is ready to go, she goes.”
Further hysterics erupted from the audience, causing Mr. Gergel to jump from his chair in protest. “Mr. Chairman, I think to maintain dignity in this proceeding, we’ve got to have the audience quit snickering. This isn’t a carnival. We’re trying to have some dignity to this proceeding. I have been in many proceedings where if audiences can’t control themselves, we clear the room. I just think that this—” but Chairman Hurrle didn’t let Mr. Gergel finish.
“We’ll take care of it,” the chairman rebuked Mr. Gergel. But he never did.
When it was Mr. Gergel’s turn to question Mrs. Jernigan, he approached the witness stand, stood contemplatively for a few moments staring at her before gently asking, “Mrs. Jernigan, would it be fair to say that you have a lot of personal dislike for Maggi Hall?”
“No. I think that Maggi has the potential of being a very good teacher.”
“You didn’t answer myquestion. I just sort of sensed—I may have been reading between the lines, but I just sort of sensed a lot of hostilitywhen I was sitting over there and you were talking aboutMaggiHall.Was that just myimagination?”
“No, not necessarily,” she retorted.
“I didn’t think so,” smiled Mr. Gergel.
“Now, you had sent a note to the Principal about overhearing a conversation with Ms. Hall…?”
“Yes, I did.”4
“Okay. Were you aware she was calling Wildlife Action to say that she wouldn’t be in on that Thursday afternoon because it was her daughter’s birthday, and she wouldn’t be in on Friday afternoon because after school she was going to Florida?”
“So, you eavesdropped on a conversation, which you apparently misunderstood—” but Mrs. Jernigan interrupted to defend her actions. “It’s a public phone. It’s there in our teacher’s lounge.”
“…Then you went and wrote down what you heard. You didn’t ask Maggi for any explanation; is that right?”
“You were sort of trying to make the book on Maggi, weren’t you?”
“No,” she vehemently denied, shaking her head in protest.
“How many other teacher’s conversations did you write down…sitting in that public place?”
“I don’t think I ever heard a teacher make a conversation like that over the phone…. I have never heard any other teacher call some place and say, I’m not going to be here on such and such a day, and I’m not going to be here on such and such a day, especially just someone else’s birthday. I realize birthdays are important. I don’t always get my birthday off. Do you always get yours off?”
“Now, Ms. Jernigan, let’s not be cute about this. You don’t know who she was telling or when she was going to be indisposed, did you?”
“Now, you were talking about something that happened in the trailer. How long ago was this when a visitor came to her trailer?”
“It’s been years ago.”
Bewildered, Mr. Gergel repeated, “Years ago?” to which she declared “Yes.”
Mr. Gergel then repeated the same question and again he got the same answer. She also testified she had never notified Mrs. LeGette of her concerns to which Mr. Gergel pointed out, “But now that we are up here, you are talking about something that is years ago, you now come up and you are writing secret notes. All of y’all were sort of trying to build the record on Maggi, weren’t you?”
“No, I don’t think we were building a record on Maggi.”
“It’s just a coincidence that you are talking about it now; is that right?”
“Yes, I think it’s a coincidence.”
Mrs. Graves was close friends with Mr. and Mrs. Allen Floyd. Mrs. Dawn Floyd taught at North Mullins and Mr. Floyd was the county school board member who attended the secret meeting about me.
“Would you describe for the Board your experiences with regard to [bus supervision with Mrs. Hall]?”
“Yes. I guess it was two or three years ago…. On bus duty I noticed that shewould lay down under a tree and read a book. It irritated me very much because we would have to supervise her children and load her bus as she read or whatever she was doing.When I get irritated I tend to be a little sarcastic or flippant. Mr. Sellars came out to relieve some of us and I suggested to himthat maybe we should all chip in and buy Mrs.Hall a hammock so shewould bemore comfortable.”
“What kind of behavior at school meetings have you observed on the part of Ms. Hall?” asked Mr. Davis. And with that question the repetitious testimony continued: I rattled my keys, filed my nails, laid around, and let my kids go wild, and was, in Mrs. Graves’s own words, “…the rudest person I have ever seen.” She also added, in almost the exact same words as Mrs. Jernigan, “…[S]he would get up and fly out like her hair was on fire or something. She was just gone out the door.”
“Do you recall the survey that appeared in the teacher’s box one day and then several days later appeared in the newspaper with Ms. Hall describing teachers who had certain opinions as expressed on the survey as being myopic…?” Mr. Davis asked, again looking in my direction.
“I recall that very much. In that article she said, the ones that said, ‘no complaints’ were myopic. She called me myopic. I am not narrow-minded. I think I am very tolerant of people’s views, but I can’t tolerate her anymore.”
Mr. Nickles cross-examined Mrs. Graves. “You said you made a report about her sitting down during some duty…years ago?”
“That was about three years ago.”
“About three years ago?” he repeated incredulously, with emphasis on the word “three.”
“I have been lucky enough not to have duty with her since then.”
“Did you ever go to Ms. Hall and say, look, I think you ought to change your attitude here?”
“Oh, man, you got to be joking. That would never work.”
“Did you ever try?” Mr. Nickles continued.
“No, I’m scared of her.”
Taken aback by that Mr. Nickles questioned, “Has Ms. Hall ever attacked you?”
“Whenever I saw her, but not physically,” she answered.
“…Has Ms. Hall ever said a mean word to you?”
“She called me myopic,” Mrs. Graves complained.
“She called you myopic, and you thought that was mean; is that right?”
“I thought it was derogatory.”
“There was nothing good in that letter? It’s just bad about the school; is that right?” Mr. Nickles continued.
“Well, to tell you the truth,” Mrs. Graves admitted, “a lot of times I scan these things; and yes, she might have said something nice at the beginning, but she can be nice one minute and then turn on you the next.”
“So, you don’t remember if there is anything good in there? You remember the bad; is that right?”
“Yes, I tend to remember some of the bad,” Mrs. Graves agreed with Mr. Nickles.
“I think your testimony clearly speaks for that, doesn’t it?” Mr. Nickles suggested.
“Yes, it does.”
Mr. Sellars was the assistance principal at North Mullins Primary. For years he’d sought me out as his sounding board for administrative problems, asking me to assist with his graduate school project and wondering why he was never promoted to principal. We were friends, but when my letters to the editor began, so did his documentations of me.5
Mr. Davis asked Mr. Sellars to describe what I had done that disturbed him. Mr. Sellars’ repetitious recitation was presented as if he’d practiced it again and again. After Mr. Sellers had finished Mr. Davis asked, “Did the times you had problems with Maggi involve an attempt on your part to exercise supervision over her?”
“Yes, sir. There were times when I would bring some things to her attention, and at that time, you know, she would get angry with me and just walk off,” he answered, shaking his head for emphasis.
After my class was moved from the storeroom at one end of the trailer into the main building, my room was adjacent to Mr. Sellars’ office, a wall of concrete separating us. I learned about school discipline at North Mullins Primary that year. Corporal punishment was the number one method of control over our vulnerable first and second graders. As I sat at my desk, I would hear through that wall the crying of little people being hit with a wooden paddle. With each recipient of the adult frustration that the administration meted out to those young spirits, I heard the soul of a child dying.
“Did she pay any attention at all to her student supervisory duties?” Mr. Davis inquired.
“No, she just sat there.”
During Mr. Sellars’ cross-examination, Mr. Gergel discussed with him the numerous complaints he had shared in his direct examination. Mr. Sellars reiterated that I had a poor attitude, I did not monitor my students, I was disrespectful to authority, especially in teachers’ meetings, and that I did not do an adequate job in teaching the reading program for special education students.
Mr. Gergel also had taken note that Mr. Sellars admitted I was an excellent teacher even though his criticisms, especially regarding my ability to teach reading, were numerous. Mr. Gergel asked for clarification to what were obviously conflicting statements. “You talk about what an excellent teacher Maggi Hall is. Why is she an excellent teacher?”
“Because she cares.”
“Is that true?” Mr. Gergel asked in surprise.
“How about her knowledge?”
“You were listing all these concerns you had and I was trying to write them all down. I think they all occurred before April 15th, didn’t they? …Before her contract was renewed this year? So, you want the Board after they renewed the contract…to fire her for the things that happened before April 15th?”
“Yes, I do. I don’t want her back.”6
Mrs. Rabon, the school secretary, was called by Mr. Davis who prompted her with, “What do you know about Maggi Hall?”
“Can I give an analogy?”
“Yes, ma’am,” responded Mr. Davis with a slight bow.
Mrs. Rabon retrieved from her pocket a folded sheet of paper. As if opening a fragile manuscript she theatrically read: “Ms. Hall—When I think about Ms. Hall and the things she’s done, I think about a robot that has been programmed to destroy and there’s nothing that you can do to stop it. You can’t reason with it, you can’t talk to it, you can’t run. You can’t fight back. It’s like there’s no conscience, no sense of morality. It’s just that single-minded thing. Do what’s best for me.”
With the conclusion of her prepared written declaration, she glanced over at me, pure hatred reaching across the space, refolded her script, returned it to her pocket, and sat waiting for further instructions.
Mr. Gergel began cross-examination. “Mrs. Rabon, do you have part of your assignment that when teachers make calls in your office you write them down and report the substance to the Principal?”
“No, I do not.”
“But you did that for Maggi?”
“Yes, I did,” she smugly admitted.
Mr. Gergel decided to further his investigation into the undercover trip to my doctor’s office by asking, “How often do you serve as the driver for reconnaissance of teachers?”
She seemed insulted with his question. “I don’t do that, that’s not part of my job.”
“Not part of your job description?”
“You did it for Maggi Hall, didn’t you?”
“Ms. LeGette asked me to. I would do it again if she asked me.”
“And tell me where…did this reconnaissance [occur]?”
“We went to Marion. We saw her car at the doctor’s office and went to the Piggly Wiggly….”
“Why didn’t you pull right in the parking lot?”
“We went there for a purpose. Ms. Hall made us resort to that.”
Perplexed, Mr. Gergel asked, “Ms. Hall?”
“It was self-preservation,” she retorted.
Mr. Gergel, still unable to fathom the depth of the espionage, repeated, “Went and spied at the gynecologist’s office?”
Mrs. Rabon did not like the term “spy.” “No, we did not spy.”
Although Mrs. Rabon refused to admit she had been a spy, her memos to Mrs. LeGette revealed the opposite.7
Mr. Gergel then asked Mrs. Rabon about the telephone call Mrs. LeGette made from the Piggly Wiggly. Mrs. Rabon answered that they wanted to make sure all was well at the school. Then since Mrs. LeGette could not remember who she had spoken with when she made her call from the grocery store, he asked Mrs. Rabon, “Because the Principal and you were gone to do this reconnaissance…who was [at the school]…?”
“Ms. Linda Odom was answering the phone.”
“…[D]uring the school day, isn’t it?” Mr. Gergel asked, to which Mrs. Rabon acknowledged as if it was standard practice for a principal and a secretary to leave school and follow a fellow employee to the doctor’s office, “That’s right.”8
Miss Odom was the guidance counselor at North Mullins Primary. I first met her when she joined Wildlife Action and volunteered to do some odd jobs for WLA’s president, Mr. Beeson. He refused her offer. When Miss Odom moved to a new house three blocks from ours, I took her a bottle of champagne and her favorite record “Oh Danny Boy.”
Mr. Davis’ examination revealed that Miss Odom had traveled over thirty miles to the Florence Airport to attempt to locate my car in the parking lot the week Ron and Erin were in Washington.
During cross-examination Mr. Gergel asked in disbelief about her airport visit, “…You went…to see if you could find out whether Maggi Hall had gone to Washington, DC; is that right?”
“Not only had you done that, but you had gone by the home of the secretary to Wildlife Action to see if you could get information from her, didn’t you?”
Mr.Gergel then quizzed, “Howwould you feel if your colleagues met behind your back, and talked about you and then one day later get an anonymous letter…?”
“I would be upset,” Miss Odom admitted and Mr. Gergel agreed, “You darn right you would. You have seen this letter dated April 18th, haven’t you?” and he handed Miss Odom a copy of the anonymous letter.
“Oh, yes, I have seen it.”
“I believe you told me in your Deposition that in substance you agree with that letter, don’t you?”
“In substance I agree with it,” Miss Odom candidly replied.
“I asked you, if somebody wanted to know how Linda Odom felt, they could read the letter; and you said, right; isn’t that right?”
“Yes, I did.”
“And you told me that a substantial number of other teachers shared your view about that; isn’t that right?”
“I feel that they did.”
“And in those meetings that y’all had, the substance of those meetings could be found in that letter, didn’t you tell me that?”
“Somewhat, yes,” she responded.
Mr. Gergel stood squarely before Miss Odom, looked her dead in the eye, and said, “I want you to…read very slowly to the Board the substance of these meetings of April 17th and April 22nd. Go ahead and read it.”
Mr. Davis did not like what was about to happen. Jumping to his feet, he demanded, “Are you suggesting that that letter was composed at that meeting? I don’t think there is any basis for suggesting that, if that’s the case.”
Mr. Gergel clarified, “She said this was the substance of the meetings. I am going to let her publish it. Let me just say this: I will stipulate that nobody has the guts to admit who wrote this anonymous letter.”
Chairman Hurrle asked, “Is the letter anonymous?” and Mr. Gergel replied, “It’s anonymous. It was written one day after the April 17th meeting. I think I have enough copies for all the Board members.” He then passed a copy to each board member while Miss Odom fidgeted in the witness chair.
“If it’s anonymous, you don’t know when it was written; but you certainly have no basis for suggesting that it was written at that meeting by anyone at attendance there,” Mr. Davis said, now moving from around his table and toward Mr. Gergel, ready for battle.
Undaunted, Mr. Gergel continued. “Though they didn’t have the courage to sign it, they did have the guts to put the date on it, April 18th.”
Argumentatively facing Mr. Gergel, Mr. Davis shouted, “Who is they? You don’t know who it is.”
“Some concerned Marion County Educators,” Mr. Gergel calmly answered.
Chairman Hurrle asked, “We don’t know that anyone in that room wrote this letter; is that right?”
Mr. Gergel agreed. “It’s completely anonymous, that’s right.”
Chairman Hurrle continued, “So, we have approximately a hundred and ninety-five Marion County Educators?” Patiently Mr. Gergel justified why he wanted Miss Odom to read aloud the anonymous letter. “Mr. Hurrle, my point is, she said…this letter reflects the substance of the meeting. I want her to publish that.”
Turning back to Miss Odom, Mr. Gergel directed, “Go ahead and start reading it.”
Stubborn fearful silence from Miss Odom caused Mr. Gergel to repeat his request. “Go ahead and read the letter, please, ma’am.” But Miss Odom solidly sat, letter in hand, refusing to cooperate.
Mr. Gergel lost his patience. He moved to the witness stand, placed both hands on the arms of her chair, and explained, “…The way this examinationworks is I ask the question and you answer it…. Iamasking you to publish the letter.”
Miss Odom looked at Chairman Hurrle and then Mr. Davis pleading, “I would like to clarify what I said and clarify what you asked me.”
Mr. Gergel wouldn’t let her get away with what she was trying to do and said, “Let me tell you something, when Mr. Davis gets back up, if there is any need for clarification, he is welcome to do it. I am asking you to read the letter.”
Having returned to his seat Mr. Davis leapt back up exclaiming, “She should be permitted to do that now. I also object to his insistence that she not be able to do so.”
“Mr. Davis, she has a responsibility to respond to my question. I have asked her to publish this, and I think she has the duty to publish it.”
Chairman Hurrle, evidently having trouble following the proceedings, interrupted, “Did she answer your last question?”
“Oh, yes. The question I ask now is that she publish it,” answered Mr. Gergel.
Mr. Davis implored Chairman Hurrle, “She wishes to give clarification to her response, and she should be given that opportunity at this point.”
Chairman Hurrle, now more confused than ever, asked, “Mrs. Court Reporter, please, read the last question back to me.”
“(Whereupon, the court reporter read back the following questions and answers):
‘QUESTION: You told me in substance that you agreed with that letter?
ANSWER: I agree with it.’”
ChairmanHurrle interrupted the court reporterwith, “Thenwhat happened?”
“‘QUESTION: I asked you: If someone wanted to know how Linda Odom felt, they could read the letter; and your answer was, right; isn’t that right?
ANSWER: Yes, I did.’”
Chairman Hurrle interrupted the court reporter to ask, “Then what was said?” to which the court reporter continued:
“‘QUESTION: And in those meetings that y’all had, the substance of those meetings could be found in that letter, didn’t you tell me that?
ANSWER: Somewhat, yes.
QUESTION: I want you to publish to the Board—.’”
The chairman again interrupted the court reporter, “So, that’s when he asked to have that published. So, Mr. Gergel, you said three times about the substance of the letter, three times after what you told me was the last question.”
Mr. Gergel, totally appalled with the lack of professional courtesy said, “Oh, come on—.” He knew proper rules of such proceedings and few were evident at this public hearing. Mr. Gergel was exasperated, and rightly so.
Chairman Hurrle, at last resigning himself to Mr. Gergel’s request, looked toward Miss Odom, addressing the witness with familiarity, “Read the letter for us, please, Linda.”
Throughout the repartee with the chairman and both attorneys, Miss Odom had waited expectantly, hoping she would not have to read the letter. But Mr. Gergel won. Glasses in place, Miss Odom, shifting her position in the witness chair, read the anonymous letter that she candidly admitted described her feelings as well as those of the teachers in attendance at the secret meeting when they signed the petition asking for my transfer.
Dear Mrs. Hall,
It concerns some of us deeply that you have chosen to air your differences with the Marion County School system in the newspaper. Both you and your husband’s tactics are “tacky” as well as unprofessional. Have you ever heard of “catching more flies with honey than vinegar?” If you have a problem, why can’t you or your husband go to whom the problem concerns, sit down and discuss the matter as professionals to settle your differences? With your obnoxious way of handling things, no wonder you aren’t getting any cooperation.
Frankly, some of us are tired of you and your husband airing your views in each week’s edition of the paper. If you can’t find anything good with our school system, just leave!! Our system did survive before you entered the work force and I’m sure it can survive without you. After all, everyone can be replaced, Mrs. Hall, even you. Some of us like our system and do not like all the bad publicity it is receiving from you and your husband. After all, that’s only your opinion! We have opinions too and it’s time we spoke up. Besides Mrs. Hall, what have you done for our school system? You seem to have gloated quite a bit about what you have done in other districts. Can you devote as much time to our children as you do to Wildlife Action? Could this be a part of the reason Johnny can’t read?????
We have also written Dr. Nielsen’s office opposing your appointment to her committee. We resent having you represent us in such a way. There are a lot of other people in Marion County who could represent our schools better. Some of us feel that you could care less about our children but are out for your own personal gain.
Why should we fill out or respond to your surveys? Unless they were mailed directly to Dr. Nielsen’s office from the person responding, why bother? With all your complaints and grips [sic], the positive would never be seen by Dr. Nielsen.
We support our principals, superintendents and school boards of Marion County. They have all worked hard for our schools and we find them very supportive. Some of us have found them very willing to listen to problems, if approached in a professional manner. Sure, every business has rules and regulations. That is so the goals can be met, and yes, every business has a boss.
Even though we do not always agree, we must work together to accomplish those goals for our children’s [sic] sake. Isn’t following rules the root of your grips [sic] anyway? Could you be trying to create a smoke screen so attention will be diverted away from this problem? Could you be trying to save your own neck by causing all this uproar? Some of us still remember all the problems and editorials over the Marion County Museum. Sounds like the same old song. Just remember “Those who go after, sometimes get caught themselves.” Your day is coming, Mrs. Hall.
Signed, Some Concerned Marion County Educators.9
Mr. Gergel had cautioned in his opening statement before the Marion District II School Board, “I’ve got to confess to you I come here with considerable trepidation.”
His fear was justified as each witness appeared on stage to recite from a clearly well-rehearsed script reminescent of Shakespeare’s As You Like It: “…all the men and women merely players…hav[ing] their exits and their entrances…full of strange oaths…last scene of all that ends this strange eventful history, second childishness, and mere oblivion….”