Representing Herself Now, Former Sandwich Superintendent Seeks $3 Million In Damages

Dr. Mary Ellen JohnsonENTERPRISE FILE PHOTO - Dr. Mary Ellen Johnson

The former Sandwich superintendent of schools is seeking a judgment of nearly $3 million plus interest against the Sandwich School Committee.

The judgment sought by Mary Ellen Johnson of East Dennis is seven times the size of the judgment worked out between the town’s attorney and her former attorney.

In a motion filed Monday at Barnstable Superior Court, Dr. Johnson said she is seeking a total of $2,924,860, plus 12 percent interest, a rate that she said would be calculated based on the pay-out date.

The former superintendent fired her attorney last month and notified the court that she would represent herself going forward.

But Dr. Johnson’s filing also is running up against a December 16 order issued by the judge in the case, Christopher J. Muse.

In that order, which acknowledged Dr. Johnson’s right to represent herself, Judge Muse said he would not allow her to throw out and renegotiate a roughly $400,000 breach-of-contract settlement reached with the Town of Sandwich last month.

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In that order, Judge Muse wrote that he “will not revisit the interest, sick leave buyback, base salary, group insurance and any other compensation claims already addressed in prior orders.

“Furthermore, there is no right to reimbursement by either party for attorney’s fees,” Judge Muse wrote.

But Dr. Johnson revisits the matters anyway in her motion. She also seeks triple damages.

In her motion, Dr. Johnson writes, “The plaintiff’s terms and conditions of her contract are clear and precise. The harm that has been done to the plaintiff’s professional career by the defendants was ill-conceived and blatantly unlawful.

“The plaintiff begs the court to ‘make her whole’ and enter a sound and solid judgment to cure the harmful and unlawful actions of the defendants, which has extended over 3 1/2 years and now is moving to the fourth year,” Dr. Johnson writes.

The final value of the settlement previously worked out likely will range from $417,875 to $439,185, according to court filings.

But the former superintendent said she did not approve or even know about the settlement worked by her former attorney. Hence her decision to fire him and represent herself.

In 2010, the Sandwich School Committee voted against renewing Dr. Johnson’s contract. The decision reversed a prior decision that year to renew the contract.

In October, Judge Muse found that the school committee had breached Dr. Johnson’s contract.

In his December 16 order, Judge Muse said he would allow Dr. Johnson to file a response as her own attorney to Sandwich’s proposed settlement of $417,875, but that she would be limited to arguing the amount of money she is due from grant administration, the sole unresolved issue in last month’s settlement.

When he received Dr. Johnson’s response, the judge wrote, he will consider the recent submissions in the case, and enter an order of judgment specifying a monetary award.

Dr. Johnson previously said in an interview that she believes the judge will be receptive to reopening the settlement discussion.

 

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