OSWEGO, NY – It took a jury about 2½ hours to rule that former Oswego school board member Fran Hoefer defamed Middletown school Superintendent Ken Eastwood in a 2010 blog posting.
On Friday, the Orange County Supreme Court jury found that the statements by Hoefer, posted on the Inside Middletown Schools blog March 6, 2010 — allegations about “abuse” of an honor student by Eastwood, that he’d used his position to get better grades for his daughter and that the district reserve account was discovered to be depleted after Eastwood’s 2004 departure from Oswego — were defamatory, according to an article published in today’s Times Herald-Record.
The court had already ruled that the claims about grades and abuse were false; the jury also found the reserve-depletion claim to be false, and that Hoefer made his blog statement either knowing that the claim was false or with reckless disregard for its falsity, according to the Times Herald-Record.
“Twelve years of hell is over,” Dr. Eastwood told Oswego County Today tonight.
It seemed as if as soon as Hoefer came on the (Oswego) board, he was out to get people left and right, the former Oswego Schools Superintendent said.
“It accelerated over time and then I left. About two years ago, he came down here (Middletown) with the explicit purpose in mind to get me,” Dr. Eastwood said. “That’s when I decided enough is enough.”
The pair was at odds in Oswego while Dr. Eastwood was superintendent. He moved to Middletown in mid 2004 to take the superintendent job there.
The superintendent claims Hoefer “did everything he could to defame me, my family and my children.”
“The case is in mid-stream. The jury is coming back on Thursday to continue deliberations. Then the judge will have to rule on our motion to set aside the verdict as Mr. Hoefer had factual basis for each and every statement and none was made with actual malice,” Hoefer’s lawyer, Michael Sussman, told Oswego County Today. “So, we are a ways away from any appeal. The case is very much still ongoing in the Supreme Court … the lowest court.”
“I’m shocked,” Sussman added. “I’m sure there will be an appeal.”
Dr. Eastwood said he is glad it’s over and feels sorry for many people in the Oswego community – adults and students – who had to suffer because of Hoefer’s actions.
“I left, tried to be professional about it and put it all behind me,” Dr. Eastwood said. “I didn’t want to go to court, but needed to. I got a feeling of deep satisfaction when the jury came back with its decision on Friday.”
On Thursday, the jury will hear arguments on punitive damages.