Judge: Fayetteville Schools Must Release Wendt Records

FAYETTEVILLE (KFSM) — A judge has given the Fayetteville School District five days to redact and release records related to its investigation into former superintendent Dr. Matthew Wendt.

Circuit Judge Tom Cooper on Friday (Aug. 17) denied a temporary restraining order from Shae Lynn Newman, who sued last month to keep her records private after the district sought to release the records in response to several Freedom Of Information Act requests.

Newman accused Wendt of sexual harassment in March. The School Board fired him in June for breach of contract for derogatory comments against a fellow employee, which violated district policy, according to Susan Kendall, attorney for the School Board.

Judge Cooper said the redactions should focus on Newman's family and third parties unrelated to the district's sexual harassment investigation. Her name won't be redacted.

Newman's lawyer, Suzanne Clark, filed a complaint July 11 in Washington County Circuit Court arguing that releasing the records amounted to an unwanted invasion of privacy.

In an amended complaint filed Thursday (Aug. 16), Clark reiterated her argument that the records deal with the Newman's role as a victim of sexual harassment, and not her discipline or termination while working for the district.

“The records … contain graphic text messages that are exceptionally personal in nature,” Clark wrote in the complaint.

“Such information would subject the plaintiff and her family to embarrassment, harassment, and could impact her employment and relationships with friends.”

After receiving several FOIA requests regarding the district’s investigation of Wendt, school officials determined Newman's personnel file was a “job performance record” and therefore releasable, according to Clark’s complaint.

Newman asked for an opinion from Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, who later affirmed the district’s decision to disclose the records.

However, Rutledge noted that the Newman's “name should be redacted as a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”

Earlier this month, Wendt sued Newman for allegedly making false claims about their relationship, which he said damaged his career. He's seeking $850,000 in damages.

The state Supreme Court appointed Cooper, a Ninth West Judicial Circuit judge from Ashdown, to hear the case after Washington County Circuit Judge Doug Martin recused.