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Bechtel family gearing up for legal fight with Dallemand

Attorneys representing Bibb County school board member Gary Bechtel and his family in a lawsuit against Superintendent Romain Dallemand are gearing up for a court hearing next week with the intent to stop the release of academic information about Bechtel’s son.

A Superior Court hearing is scheduled for Aug. 1 at 2 p.m. Attorneys will seek a temporary injunction to have the information removed from the school system’s website and present the Bechtels’ side of the case, said Charles Cox, one of the attorneys representing the Bechtels in the case.

“I expect we’ll prevail on that,” Cox said.

Bechtel’s attorneys are also in the process of determining if any witnesses would need to be subpoenaed for the hearing.

“We’ll assess that in the coming days,” Cox said.

Bechtel filed a lawsuit Monday against Dallemand, contending that Dallemand violated student privacy rights by improperly releasing information about the education records of Bechtel’s son.

The Bechtels -- Gary, his wife, Laura, and their son, Sam -- filed the lawsuit against Dallemand personally, not in his professional capacity.

Last week, the school system released the results of an audit of board members’ e-mails by the accounting firm McGladrey. The audit report cited about two dozen instances of possible violations by Bechtel of school board and state policies, including involvement in a bid process for school buses and seeking favors for his children.

Cox did not know if Dallemand had received formal notice about the lawsuit as of Wednesday afternoon or the name of Dallemand’s attorney.

Multiple attempts to reach Dallemand have been unsuccessful.

Bechtel, who is running for a Bibb County Commission seat, has called the audit a “witch hunt” against him and one other board member and said the e-mails were taken out of context.

The Bechtels contend that Dallemand released their son’s “private and confidential education records to the public,” without their consent, by having the records published on the school district’s website Friday.

They also maintain that Dallemand had released their son’s records in an unauthorized manner before their appearance on the website.

Specifically, the Bechtels take issue with the release of an e-mail that Gary Bechtel wrote in December 2011, asking that his son be moved to another math class at Howard High School.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the e-mail in question was still on the school system’s website.

In addition to an injunction requiring Dallemand to stop publishing their son’s information and to prohibit Dallemand from releasing additional information, the Bechtels also request damages to compensate the family for “the injuries they have sustained to their peace, happiness and feelings” and for Dallemand to pay court costs.

Bechtel said at a school board meeting Thursday that board members received the audit report and findings the week before the board meeting and were told the information was protected under attorney-client privilege, but board President Tommy Barnes said school attorneys told him the audit results were not protected.

School board attorney Patrick Millsaps, who was not at Thursday’s meeting, would not say Wednesday whether that was the advice he gave Barnes. In his analysis, however, as the audit was paid for with taxpayer dollars, Millsaps said, “I do not know an exception under the Open Records Act that would not make this an open record.”

Millsaps would not answer questions related to the Bechtels’ lawsuit.

“I am aware of the lawsuit,” Millsaps said. “I’m not going to comment on pending litigation.”

To contact writer Andrea Castillo, call 744-4331.

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