In a largely symbolic but no less resounding ruling, a federal judge on Tuesday awarded Bibb County’s public schools $47.5 million in damages in a civil lawsuit the school system brought against a former educator.
But Romain Dallemand, the imprisoned ex-school superintendent, a convicted felon who at age 50 is by his own account largely unemployable and on the hook for that multimillion-dollar award, chose not to attend the hearing.
U.S. Marshals had made arrangements for Dallemand to be brought to Macon from the federal prison in northern Florida where he is serving an eight-month sentence for tax evasion.
But for whatever reason, Dallemand, who after his fall from grace as schools chief has said he could only find jobs as an Uber driver and at a convenience store, declined the offer to be present for what was supposed to be the beginning of his trial in a civil fraud case brought by the school system.
So without him on Tuesday in U.S. District Court what would appear to be the final legal proceedings regarding his tumultuous 28-month tenure here earlier this decade played out during a five-hour damages hearing.
Perhaps most emphatic in Judge Marc T. Treadwell’s $47.5 million damages ruling came in the form of the $24.6 million in punitive damages that were part of it — $1,000 for each of the 24,600 children enrolled in public schools here when Dallemand was said to have received hundreds of thousands of dollars in kickbacks from nefarious transactions.
Those dealings, according to the lawsuit, involved a $3.7 million computer hardware deal, a $3.2 million software buy, a $1 million payment to the Macon Promise Neighborhood initiative, $500,000 for technology-upgrading services and Dallemand’s $350,000 severance when he left the school system in mid-2013.
Other defendants in the civil case, which included individuals and business entities, have all since settled and agreed to pay a total of $1.19 million to Bibb schools.
Current school superintendent Curtis Jones and past interim superintendent Steve Smith both testified Tuesday about the challenges Bibb schools have had recovering from Dallemand’s misdeeds. They spoke of regaining the public’s trust and the difficulties therein.
Jerry Lumley, one of the schools’ attorneys, in his closing argument said, “A school system survives only because the public lets it. ... If they don’t have trust, if they don’t have confidence in the people who are running our school system, our school system fails.”
Lumley spoke of “criminal, vile acts” by Dallemand and said the ex-superintendent “took advantage” of his decision, and that Dallemand, no matter who might have offered him under-the-table payments, could have “just said no.”
“He didn’t even show up for this trial,” Lumley added.
“If there’s ever been a person that deserves punishment,” the lawyer went on, “it’s Dallemand. ... He has not yet been punished for what he did to the school system. He’s been punished for under-reporting his income. He has not been punished for taking a bribe. He has not been punished for money laundering. He has not been punished for transporting money across state lines. This is a case that demands punishment.”
Then Lumley teared up and, for a moment, broke down when he spoke of the people, the locals affected by Dallemand’s misdeeds.
“We’re not just the parents” and others who put trust in Dallemand, Lumley said, choking up, “we’re the children.”
Lumley described Dallemand as “a one-man crime wave,” one who “victimized the people of our community, people by the way for a large part who struggle with poverty. He took away their hope.
“He could have been such a role model,” Lumley concluded. “But what he told them was, ‘Look at me, this is how you be a crook.’ ... He’s got to be punished and it’s got to be serious.”