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BELLE VERNON AREA SCHOOL DISTRICT v. THOMAS J. GILMER (05/30/80)

decided: May 30, 1980.

BELLE VERNON AREA SCHOOL DISTRICT, APPELLANT
v.
THOMAS J. GILMER, JR., APPELLEE



Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Westmoreland County in case of Thomas J. Gilmer, Jr. v. Belle Vernon Area School District, No. 5807 of 1978.

COUNSEL

John E. Costello, for appellant.

Daniel Myshin, Anto, Myshin & Martin, for appellee.

Michael I. Levin, with him William Fearen, for Pennsylvania School Boards Association, amicus curiae.

Judges Wilkinson, Jr., Craig and MacPhail, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Wilkinson, Jr.

Author: Wilkinson

[ 51 Pa. Commw. Page 604]

On May 11, 1978 the Board of School Directors of the Belle Vernon Area School District (Board) charged Thomas J. Gilmer, Jr., the Superintendent of the Belle Vernon Area School District (Superintendent) with neglect of duty and incompetence. The Superintendent was suspended without pay or benefits pending a hearing before the Board pursuant to the Local Agency Law, 2 Pa. C.S. § 551 et seq.

The Superintendent was provided with a list of charges and a Bill of Particulars, although neither was signed. The Superintendent was represented by legal counsel of his choosing, although he was not allowed to conduct a voir dire of the Board to determine bias or prejudice against him. Interrogatories which he served on the Board were not answered. The Solicitor for the school district presented the evidence against the Superintendent at the Board hearings. The Board hired independent legal counsel to advise them during the hearings and their deliberations thereafter.

Hearings were held on May 24, 1978; May 31, 1978; June 6, 1978; and June 9, 1978. The Board made 36 findings of fact on 20 charges in deciding to terminate the Superintendent.

The Superintendent appealed to the Court of Common Pleas of Westmoreland County, attacking his termination on the basis that he was not granted a due process hearing. It was alleged that members of the Board had attacked the Superintendent while running for their offices and that evidence of the bias against Superintendent was excluded from the hearing by denying interrogations and voir dire examination. The Superintendent also contended that a pre-hearing article in a local newspaper based on an interview with the Board's solicitor, who was not representing it at the hearings, tainted the entire proceedings.

The lower court, finding evidence of bias, decided that the Superintendent was denied a due process

[ 51 Pa. Commw. Page 605]

    hearing and reversed the Board, reinstating ...


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