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 Banner Error Explained

March 28, 2007 - The Banner made a significant error in last week’s newspaper, reporting that three expelled students would be receiving a total of $207,000 in settlement money from the Charles A. Beard Memorial School Corporation’s insurer.

The Banner has been told that information is not correct. But, the error is interesting and bears explanation.

Less than two hours after the March 21 Banner hit newsstands, CAB Superintendent David McGuire notified the newspaper that its story contained a "glaring error." Rather than payments of $69,000 to each of the students and his parents, as indicated in the agreements approved by the school board, McGuire said the students and their parents were to split a total payment of $69,000. It would take another day before attorneys on the case would confirm this.

At last Tuesday's meeting, before voting to approve the three agreements last week, McGuire and the CAB School Board did not disclose or comment on the terms of the settlements, other than to remark that they contained confidentiality provisions. Neither McGuire nor the board clarified that the settlement amounts in the written agreements - copies of which were given to The Banner immediately after the meeting - represented a total amount to be divided between the three students and their parents.

Citing the confidentiality provisions contained in the agreements that prevent the parties from discussing the terms of the settlement agreements, CAB attorney Marcia Mahony initially would not confirm the settlement amounts when contacted last Wednesday. The next day, however, after getting permission from the students' attorneys to discuss this specific point with the media, she did tell The Banner that the three students and their parents would share a total of $69,000. The students' attorneys, whose fees will come out of the $69,000, later corroborated this information as well.

While attorneys have gone on the record to clarify that CAB's insurer is only making a single $69,000 payment that will be split between the students and their parents, they will not explain why the agreements approved by the school board last Tuesday do not state this clearly. They attorneys have said the confidentiality provisions in the agreements prohibit them from addressing this issue and explaining why language in the agreements instead indicates the students and their parents each agreed to accept $69,000 to settle their respective cases.

A statement on the fifth page of each of the three agreement says CAB's insurer will pay $69,000 within 60 days to all three plaintiffs, but doesn't clearly specify whether this amount is to be divided between the three students or if they each get $69,000. Unfortunately, wording on the front page of two of the agreements was only consistent with the latter interpretation, which the attorneys now say is not correct.

On the first page of one agreement, it says student Isaac Imel and his parents "accept Sixty-Nine Thousand Dollars ($69,000) in payment for all damages sustained or growing out of the incident … payment to be made with sixty (60) days. …" Charlie Ours' agreement states on its front page that he and his parents "accept Sixty-Nine Thousand Dollars ($69,000) in payment for all damages sustained or growing out of the incident … the receipt of which is hereby acknowledged. …"

Nowhere in any of the three agreements does it state the students are sharing a settlement of $69,000. Rather, the Imel and Ours agreements both specifically state that each student and his parents have agreed to accept settlements of $69,000 - not a portion of a $69,000 total that will be shared between them. Additionally, Imel's agreement says on its first page that he and his parents will receive their $69,000 within 60 days, while the first page of Ours' says he and his parents acknowledge they have already received $69,000.

Because of the agreements' confidentiality provisions, Mahony and the attorneys representing the students have told The Banner they cannot address inconsistencies in the settlement documents or answer further questions about the case. They will not even say why confidentiality provisions were even included in the agreements, which are public records, or say which party requested their inclusion.

“We, of course, regret the error,” said Banner Publisher Eric Cox. “And we don’t mind admitting mistakes. We publish all too many corrections. But, since we feel it was reasonable to conclude the settlement agreements were for $69,000 each, and since school officials couldn’t comment and the attorneys were unreachable prior to our deadline, we were unable to get a final word on the settlements. So, again, while we regret the error, we do feel like it was a reasonable determination. Plus, several other news organizations made the same mistake. In the final analysis, it just appeared to be really poor and murky writing on the part of attorneys -- attorneys who will get paid big dollars no matter what.”


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