Originally created 12/12/04

Principal wins defamation suit



COLUMBIA - A jury has awarded a Columbia principal $150,000 in a defamation lawsuit after he said his boss falsely accused him of ignoring black pupils.

Rosewood Elementary School Principal Ted Wachter, who is white, filed the lawsuit against his boss, Area 1 Superintendent Jake Sello, who is black. Mr. Wachter also sued the district.

"I think the jury, representing the conscience of Richland County, sent a loud and clear message to Richland School District 1 about the standards of ethical behavior that they expect from their administrators," Mr. Wachter said Friday.

The jury found Thursday that Mr. Sello falsely accused Mr. Wachter of ignoring black pupils, failing to improve black pupils' Palmetto Achievement Challenge Test scores and suggesting he wanted to "move his black kids to all-black schools," said Mr. Wachter's attorney, Lewis Cromer.

The statements occurred in letters and phone calls to Mr. Wachter from Mr. Sello, and during the grievance process, Mr. Cromer said.

The jury did not find negligence by the district in supervising Mr. Sello.

District superintendent Ronald Epps, who is Mr. Sello's boss, said in a statement that he was "shocked" by the verdict and thought the decision was "in error." He said he would talk with the district board and attorney before "determining what further steps, if any, should be taken."

The jury, made up of seven blacks and five whites, deliberated about three hours after the four-day trial before Circuit Court Judge Ernest Kinard.

Mr. Wachter, who has been the Rosewood principal for more than 25 years, said he recently has chosen to "focus on improving academic achievement of African-American students."

Mr. Wachter's lawsuit also said that Mr. Epps and Mr. Sello conspired against him. But that claim was dismissed earlier by the court.