Justices Decline to Hear Appeal of Former Poughkeepsie, N.Y., Superintendent

By Mark Walsh — January 09, 2017 2 min read
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The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear the appeal of the former superintendent of the Poughkeepsie, N.Y., school district in a civil case in which he alleged two district officials participated in a malicious prosecution of him over alleged financial improprieties.

Robert C. Watson Sr. served as superintendent of the Poughkeepsie district from 2000 to 2006, when he left under a $163,000 buyout agreement that caused controversy in the community. Three audits of district finances led to an 18-month state grand jury investigation in which Watson was indicted on charges of grand larceny, offering a false instrument for filing, and payment of an unqualified teacher.

In a bench trial, Watson was acquitted in November 2008 of all charges.

Watson then filed a federal civil suit against prosecutors, as well as the Poughkeepsie school board and district business manager Jeffrey Baker and the district’s outside counsel, Beth Sims. Watson alleged a malicious prosecution, including that the two school district officials and the board “intentionally provided false and fabricated information to, and purposefully withheld exculpatory evidence from, the DA’s office and external auditors they knew the DA was relying upon for information as part of its investigation,” as Watson’s Supreme Court appeal describes it.

A federal district court dismissed prosecutors as defendants and later granted summary judgment to the school board, Baker, and Bell. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, in New York City, unanimously affirmed that ruling in a decision last April.

“Watson’s malicious prosecution claims against Sims and Baker fail because he has not pointed to any evidence on the record that demonstrates, even when viewed in the light most favorable to him, that either Sims or Baker initiated or continued the prosecution against him,” the 2nd Circuit court said. “We have explained that reporting a crime to law enforcement and giving testimony does not constitute the ‘initiation’ of a criminal prosecution.”

The court held that Watson’s claim of municipal liability for the school board failed because it relied on alleged liability of Baker and Sims.

The former school superintendent’s appeal to the Supreme Court in Watson v. Sims (Case No. 16-367) was opposed vigorously in separate briefs filed by the school board, Baker, and Sims.

The high court on Jan. 9 refused without comment to take up Watson’s appeal.

A version of this news article first appeared in The School Law Blog.