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School Board member does not enjoy immunity for allegedly defamatory comments made on the radio

Robert Davis made a radio appearance to justify his efforts to prevent the hiring of Donald Estill as Assistant Superintendent of the Highland Park School District.  A member of the Highland Park Board of Education, Davis had filed lawsuits to prevent Estill's hiring.  Over the radio, he apparently called Estill a "thief" who "stole from his employer," lacked a degree from Cornell and had been terminated by his previous employer.  Estill sued for defamation, claiming that all of these facts were false and defamatory.  Davis argued that as a school board member, he was immune from Davis' allegations of defamation. 

The Governmental Tort Liability Act grants immunity to public employees and agents under most circumstances, if they are acting in their official capacity.  Under the school board's by-laws, a school board member may speak outside meetings only as a private citizen unless he or she has been delegated the right to speak on behalf of the Board.  Thus, under the local law defining Davis' legal authority, he was acting as a private citizen when he appeared on the radio to call Estill a "thief." 

Given the latter finding, Davis is not immune for his actions, if his claims were false and defamatory...and the School Board is immune, since Davis was not entitled to speak on the Board's behalf.

Thompson O’Neil, P.C.
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