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Board member criticizes judge

BARNESVILLE, Minn. -- A Barnesville School Board official has rebuked a Clay County judge for her role in helping settle a lawsuit against the board.

BARNESVILLE, Minn. -- A Barnesville School Board official has rebuked a Clay County judge for her role in helping settle a lawsuit against the board.

In a typed letter to Judge Kathleen Weir, School Board member Tim Thompson said the judge made intimidating and unprofessional remarks at a court hearing April 29.

"Until my experience in your courtroom, I assumed that a courtroom was a place of honor and fairness," Thompson wrote in the two-page letter. "You showed me something quite different."

The letter, dated Monday, was obtained by The Forum Wednesday afternoon.

In a telephone interview, Thompson said he stands by the comments in his letter.

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"I absolutely believe what I wrote in the letter," he said. "I sent it because I was frustrated by what happened."

A group of residents sued four members of the Barnesville School Board Sept. 20, claiming they broke the state's open meeting laws.

The lawsuit also claimed Loretta Szweduik, Jeff Brown and Kevin and Ellen Smith, who are married, secretly met to try to fire the district's former superintendent.

Thompson and School Board members Randy McEvers and Heather Jerald were not named in the lawsuit.

However, one of the three board members was asked to resign to settle the suit.

At a mediation hearing April 29, Szweduik and McEvers agreed to step down to change the board's makeup.

Initially, McEvers, Jerald and Thompson balked at the idea one of them had to resign. Weir criticized the trio for being the last roadblock preventing a settlement.

"All are in agreement" to a settlement, but "there is a group of three who have their feet wedged in cement," Weir said at the hearing.

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In his letter, Thompson took offense at the remark, adding it was improper for board members not named in the lawsuit to resign.

"It was irresponsible on your part to allow this to occur," Thompson wrote.

Interim Superintendent Warren Schmidt, who acted as court-appointed mediator in the case, said Thompson's letter was disappointing.

"I feel it isn't going to do any good," he said. "Everybody has a right to express their opinion, including Tim.

"But those remarks are a reflection on the board. And it does not put the board in a good light," he said.

Schmidt said previously that he didn't believe the suit could be settled without the resignations that occurred.

Attempts to reach Weir were unsuccessful Wednesday. A clerk in the Clay County Courthouse said Weir was out of town and would not return until Monday.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Cole Short at (701) 241-5557

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