BRADENTON - The Manatee School Board’s former staff attorney John Bowen was the subject of deliberation at Tuesday's regular meeting. His successor, staff attorney James Dye, advised that he may have recently violated ethics set by the Florida Bar.
The discussion came in the wake of comments that Bowen made to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune last week about former district employees involved in last year’s Rod Frazier scandal.
|Former MCSD attorney John Bowen and board member Bob Gause|
Among Bowen’s statements to the SH-T were that the former employees, who were terminated by the board, were on a “hit list” that “some board members” wanted to see gone from the district. “They were disappointed with the way the district was being run and felt anyone affiliated or connected with the previous administration needed to be eliminated,” he told the paper.
All of the former employees were charged by the state attorney with failing to report suspected child abuse uncovered in the Frazier case following an extensive investigation by the Bradenton Police Dept. Among those is former interim superintendent Robert Gagnon, whose firing Bowen said was a “political hatchet job.”
Dye said that the comments violate the client confidentiality agreement between an attorney and his client - in this case Bowen and the Manatee School Board. He said the agreement stays in effect even after the attorney has left the employment of the client. He added that he has spoken with the Bar about the comment and that they agreed.
Bowen retired from his position in 2013, not long after the board explored terminating him, before deciding the cost would be too high. Board member David Miner said, “It’s hard to imagine he isn’t exempt from rules. It may be that he just doesn’t care … I’m not sure.”
Board members discussed whether to send a complaint letter to the Bar, or to send a letter to Bowen first to warn him of discussing cases involving the school board. The board eventually and unanimously agreed to send a letter to the former staff attorney first, and to send a letter to the bar if Bowen, in the board’s and Dye’s view, violates the confidentiality agreement again.
Talking to the SH-T following the events of the meeting, Bowen disagreed that his comments violated any confidentiality agreement. Instead, he said that commenting on a public issue does not fall under a confidentiality agreement when the client is a public body.
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