By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
A recently exposed internal investigation by the Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE), alleges five individuals devised a “scheme” in July of 2016, to deny Dr. Craig Pouncey a fair chance of being selected as the State Superintendent of the Department of Education.
The internal investigation also found that an unnamed individual or individuals participated in the plot to discredit Pouncey. At this time it is unclear who, other than the five people named in the report, may have colluded in the actions taken to derail Pouncey’s election. A statement by attorney Dennis Bailey at Wednesday’s Board meeting may reveal some tantalizing clues.
According to the final report accepted by the State Board of Education last week in a 6 to 1 vote, a plan was hatched and executed by Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE) board member, Mary Scott Hunter, then-Interim Superintendent Philip Cleveland, and ALSDE attorneys Juliana Teixeira Dean, James R Ward III, and Susan Tudor Crowther.
The report states: “Most regrettably, these five participants have caused grave and serious harm, and casts a major shadow on the veracity and credibility of the State Department of Education and the State Board of Education (through no fault of the majority) that still lingers to the present day.”
Who are the others that may have participated in the alleged scheme?
Bailey, a partner at Rushton Stakely, is representing Dean, Crowther and Ward, three of the five people named in the report. Bailey is being paid to represent the trio from a taxpayer-supported insurance fund.
On Friday, Bailey said Dean, Crowther, and Ward were following the advice of counsel in their handling of the anonymous complaint against Pouncey. Is Bailey laying the groundwork for an “advice of counsel” defense for the three attorneys? Are Dean, Crowther, and Ward going to accuse other attorneys for their actions against Pouncey?
Who is the legal counsel Bailey is referencing?
The final report submitted by ALSDE attorney Michael Meyer contains emails between Balch Bingham lawyers and those, which Meyer says, were participants in the scheme. Emails show Balch Bingham attorneys Dorman Walker and David Boyd, who serve as outside counsel for the Department, were in contact in some way with the five individuals accused of executing the plan to tarnish Pouncey. Also, the evidence present by Meyer found that only board member, Hunter, was aware of these discussions.
Why are Balch Bingham lawyers giving advice on a matter that the report finds outside of official department duties?
If this was as the report states a “scheme” by Hunter and four others, why are Walker and Boyd giving advice in a smear campaign? The report shows Hunter was the only Board member aware of this information.
According to the report, “In a memorandum dated July 22, 2016, Associate General Counsel, James Ward, wrote a memo to General Counsel Dean and Associate Attorney, Susan Crowther, in conjunction with submission to [Balch Bingham attorney] Mr. Dorman Walker, departmental outside legal counsel, outlining four ways that the legal staff could pursue an investigation of Dr. Pouncey.”
According to the report, “relevant e-mails and documents beginning on July 22, 2016, thumb drive submission,” were given to Cleveland and Dean that would have cleared Pouncey’s name.
However, the investigation found that despite having information exonerating Pouncey, neither “General Counsel
Dean nor Dr. Cleveland displayed the professionalism, initiative, or fairness to acknowledge it to Dr. Pouncey, Senator Dial’s Joint Investigative Committee, or the State Board members (except Mary Scott Hunter).”
Why if Hunter, Dean, and Cleveland “beginning on July 22, 2016” had the evidence proving Pouncey’s innocence did Dean seek advice from outside counsel Walker on how to proceed with the investigation? Why did Hunter, Dean and Cleveland leave Pouncey’s reputation in doubt when the report says they had the information to clear him in their possession?
Also why did Dean feel a need to write Walker about reviewing Ward’s four steps to investigate the Pouncy allegation when according to the report she had all the relevant emails and the thumb drive information? On July 22, 2016, she writes, “Dorman [Walker], Good morning. We would appreciate your review so that the three of us can discuss at a later time.”
On August 11, 2016, in a 5 to 4 vote, Sentance was elected Superintendent.
On August 30, 2016, Balch Bingham attorney David Boyd (with Walker copied) suggested Dean and Cleveland follow up with the Ethics Commission given the information that came to light when Hunter “demanded that Mr. Pope conduct a computer search, as the departmental Chief Information Security Officer, for all e-mails and documents regarding the anonymous allegations.”
Boyd wrote, “I understand that the Department’s Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) [Pope] has personally advised you as well as Dr. Cleveland that he has identified certain archived emails or other documents that may shed light on the veracity or not of the allegations against Dr. Pouncey.” He further advised, “Finally, let me add a point in case there might be any misunderstanding of the significance, or lack thereof, of the fact that the Pouncey-related emails that surfaced recently were from an anonymous source. Whether receipt of documents or information from an anonymous source could trigger a reporting obligation under ’36-25- l 7′ is irrelevant here. The CISO [Pope] has confirmed the existence in the Department’s records of certain documents that may be relevant to a potential violation of the law. It is that information, not the earlier anonymous distribution, that prompts the need for further investigation, evaluation, and potential reporting under ’36-25-17.’”
Pope later testified that neither Dean or Cleveland acted on the information he gave them. Those emails, the final report concluded, would have cleared Pouncey of any wrong-doing.
Why, after Sentance was elected Superintendent, did no one reveal the documents that would have cleared Pouncey? Why did Hunter and the others remain silent?
Even now, the cloud of conspiracy hangs overhead as Sentance tried to hide the final report that would clear Pouncey, while casting Hunter, Cleveland, and the three attorneys as the prime movers in the scheme to ruin Pouncey?
Why are Sentance, Hunter, and Dean even now trying to discredit the report by bringing in retired Judge Bernard Harwood to punch holes in its conclusions?
Who are the others? We don’t know. But, the probe into this smear campaign is far from over, no matter how hard the schemers work to cover their tracks.