Judge denies motion to dismiss Payne lawsuit

A Jefferson County Circuit Court judge on Friday rejected a request by the Pine Bluff School District to dismiss former superintendent Jerry O. Payne’s lawsuit against the district.

“The motion to dismiss is not well-taken and should be denied,” Circuit Judge Robert H. Wyatt Jr. said at the conclusion of appearances before the court by PBSD attorney Luther Sutter and Keith Billingsley, representing Payne.

Wyatt approved a request by Sutter to allow the parties to enter mediation to try to work out their differences.

“It is my understanding that the superintendent will ask the [school] board for approval to mediate this matter,” Sutter said.

Wyatt also approved a request by Sutter to seal the mediation so that only the participants will be privy to what is said.

Sutter said that a sealed mediation was necessary for the most expeditious resolution to the matter.

“Sealing the mediation allows the parties to talk about personnel information without stigmatizing Mr. Payne,” Sutter said in a conversation outside the courtroom.

The Pine Bluff School Board terminated Payne without cause on Feb. 29, 2012, via a letter from Herman Horace, who was then the board president. The termination — effective June 30, 2012 — came the day after a special called meeting in which the board met in executive session and then reconvened to announce that no action was taken with regard to any employment contracts.

At the board’s May 15, 2012, meeting, Sutter was asked to prepare a letter to Payne outlining the board’s reasons he should be terminated for cause, which was delivered to him May 18.

A public hearing was held in the school district board room May 29, 2012, in which the board voted unanimously to fire Payne for cause effective immediately.

Payne filed his lawsuit on Oct. 15, 2012. He is seeking a jury trial.