June 13, 2013 10:38:52 AM
Sarah Fowler - [email protected]
Lowndes County Superintendent Lynn Wright and former New Hope baseball coach Stacy Hester appeared before the Mississippi Court of Appeals on Wednesday regarding their wrongful termination lawsuits against the Lowndes County School District.
Wright and Hester, both represented by Tupelo attorney Jim Waide, are appealing their May 2010 firings from the district over the purchase of a John Deere lawnmower.
In 2009, former Superintendent Mike Halford discovered Hester, the longtime baseball coach, had purchased the mower without board approval in 2007. In addition to his duties with the school, Hester also operated a landscaping business.
Wright was serving as principal of New Hope High School when the alleged infraction occurred. Halford claimed the purchase of the mower was illegal and recommended the school board terminate Hester and Wright.
The pair were fired on May 17, 2010.
In October 2011, the two filed wrongful termination suits against the district and alleged they were fired not because of the purchase of the mower but because of personality conflicts between Halford and former LCSD board president Dr. Robert Buckley.
In May 2012, Lowndes County Chancery Court Dorothy Colom ruled in favor of Wright and awarded him $175,000 in back pay. The school board voted to appeal the ruling.
The local court ruled against Hester. He appealed the ruling.
Wednesday's oral arguments were a combination of the school board's appeal against Wright and Hester's appeal against the board.
Thursday morning, Wright said he was optimistic.
"I felt like it went well," he said. "I look forward to it all being resolved and everybody being able to get this behind us and be able to move forward."
"I would think that it is so apparent that there had to be some personal animosity behind this that I am optimistic about how the court will rule," he said. "I don't think the court will like the fact that they fired two people who were doing everything they could to help the school."
Waide said he felt the lack of evidence in the case supported his argument that the firings were the result of a personal vendetta.
"It is very difficult to imagine a case where there is absolutely no evidence of wrongdoing," Waide said. " Everything they did was the benefit of the school."
It is unclear when the final ruling will be handed down, he added.
"The appellate court has only limited authority to review of a school board decision. Therefore we do not know how the court will rule."
Wright was elected Superintendent in November 2011. Hester is currently serving as head baseball coach at Brandon High School.
Sarah Fowler covered crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch.