In the lawsuit, David Butts asks the court to compel the district to provide him with documents he deems necessary to Ellis’ defense.
A hearing has been scheduled for Friday at 9 a.m. at the Lee County Justice Center before Judge Jacqueline Mask.
Butts also filed a separate request with the school district’s attorneys, asking them to dismiss Ellis’ newly named hearing officer because of what Butts said was a conflict of interest.
The laws governing school personnel hearings do not require attorneys to share documents, but Butts said that doesn’t mean they can’t do so. “Why not give it to us?” he said. “What are you hiding? Give us a fair chance.”
Tupelo school board attorney Otis Tims said because the board will make the ultimate decision on whether to accept or deny Ellis’ appeal, the board has been “shielded” from knowing the facts of the case prior to the hearing.
Tims and the board do not have access to the documents that Butts seeks, Tims said. They do not know who the witnesses will be nor have they had any contact with them, he said, and therefore should not be targeted in the lawsuit.
Butts’ suit also claims that someone is threatening and coercing potential witnesses to keep them from talking to Butts. He is asking the court to stop that intimidation and to allow him to interview these witnesses, which include students, teachers and parents, he said.
Jim Keith will be the lead attorney for the district’s case against Ellis, Tims said, and will be assisted by Kelly Stimpson, the district’s administrative counsel.
Messages left with both Keith and Stimpson by the Daily Journal were not returned Wednesday. A spokesperson for the school district declined comment.
Ellis was dismissed Oct. 28. The district presented him with a list of reasons for his dismissal, but neither Butts nor school officials have elaborated on those reasons.
The suit does note three of the charges, including the expenditure of funds from the “Tupelo Choral Booster’s Club,” that Ellis signed contracts obligating the TPSD to payment of funds and that Ellis “intimidat(ed), threaten(ed) and coerc(ed)” students to not attend classes.
Ellis denies all three claims, Butts said, and the district has not provided him information on any of the three, which is what the suit seeks.
Tupelo’s school board voted to use John Compton as a hearing officer for Ellis’ appeal instead of directly hearing it. In asking for dismissal of that hearing officer, Butts claims that Compton has a conflict of interest because he is an attorney for the Meridian and Lauderdale County school districts and both are members of the Mississippi School Boards Association, as is Tupelo. Keith, who will be representing Tupelo, is the attorney for the MSBA.
Tims said there is “no merit” to that claim.
“If his argument is accepted, no one who knows anything about school law would ever serve as a hearing officer,” Tims said.
Butts’ lawsuit is against the school board, the district, Interim Superintendent David Meadows, Tupelo High School Principal Jason Harris, the district’s attorneys and Compton, as well as other confidential parties who may be intimidating witnesses, Butts said.