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Terrel Bell Fires Deputy Who Sued California Official

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Sacramento, Calif.--Suing state officials has proved costly for the acting chief of the U.S. Education Department's Region-IX Office in San Francisco.

Robert G. Buckenmeyer, sworn in Sept. 18 as Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell's acting regional representative, received word last week that Mr. Bell had terminated his appointment.

Mr. Bell cited a lawsuit Mr. Buckenmeyer had filed before his federal appointment against Wilson C. Riles, California's superintendent of public instruction, and 12 other California department of education officials as the reason for his decision. Mr. Bell called the suit "a direct and substantial financial conflict of interest."

Mr. Buckenmeyer called Mr. Bell's action a "shabby deal" that he could not understand. "How can he say it's a conflict of interest," he asked, "when I'm exercising my state civil-law rights? How can he even use it as a reason when he knew about it prior to my appointment?"

Mr. Buckenmeyer's lawsuit claims that Mr. Riles and the other defendants "sought to cause cancellation and withdrawal of the appointment to retaliate and discriminate against the plaintiff for his reporting of improper governmental activities."

Because of this alleged pressure to reverse Mr. Buckenmeyer's federal appointment, his lawyer, Loren E. McMaster, raised his request for punitive damages from $50,000 to $250,000 from each defendant.

He pointed out that Mr. Buckenmeyer, who has returned to his old position as a $36,864-per-year consultant for the California Department of Education, would have received $50,305 for the federal position.

Mr. McMaster said the suit will test the state's so-called "whistle-blowers" act because Mr. Buckenmeyer's suit charges that the defendants had harrassed, intimidated, and embarassed him for seeking to expose "wrongdoing." Mr. Buckenmeyer, as an auditor for the state education agency, reported to the State Auditor General's Office the alleged misspending of about $200 million by his department. The auditor general's findings are expected to be released in a few weeks.

Mr. McMaster said an amended version of the suit will be filed next month in the U.S. District Court serving the eastern district of California. The original version was filed in September at the Superior Court level.

A spokesman for the California education department said the defendants had responded with "no comment" on the harrassment charges.

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