Fmr. AL State Superintendent candidate fights to clear name

Published: Oct. 5, 2016 at 10:37 PM CDT|Updated: Oct. 6, 2016 at 12:00 AM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - State Superintendent finalist Dr. Craig Pouncey is seeking to clear his name, following an anonymous letter that surfaced during the interview process.

Dr. Pouncey's attorney, Kenneth Mendelsohn, says someone, reportedly inside the State Department of Education, fabricated an anonymous letter that defamed Pouncey and attacked his credibility.

"Certain people did a horrible thing by providing information and accusing him of unethical, and basically an unconscionable conduct," Mendelsohn said. "All based on some anonymous letter that I believe was fabricated."

Mendelsohn said the letter was copied and placed into the packets for each State School Board member, stating the person usually tasked with making the packets was not there.

The letter claimed Pouncey cheated and plagiarized his doctoral dissertation, and used state resources, something he flatly denies.

"They have defamed him and accused him of this conduct," Mendelsohn said. "It affects any job opportunities in the future, it could affect his job now. He did not plagiarize anything, he did not lie about his dissertation, he did not use state resources in it or anything like that. The accusations were totally false, it accomplished what these people wanted."

Mendelsohn believes there was a faction of people who didn't want Pouncey to get the job, possibly who wanted someone who was more influential and would represent their interests. He believes this was the catalyst for the letter.

"As far as Craig's credibility, and his lifetime of service to education, he didn't deserve this," Mendelsohn said. "He is a man of impeccable character. He was one of the leading candidates, and one of the best suited for it. They had to get him out of the picture."

The anonymous letter was also submitted to the Ethics Commission, something Mendelsohn feels strongly about.

"The Ethics Commission doesn't investigate anonymous complaints," added Mendelsohn. "Nothing should have been done with this; if someone won't sign their name to it, they shouldn't look into it. And somebody in that department had to have contacted the Ethics Commission, there's a letter back from the Ethics Commission saying they complied with statutory reporting. There's obviously interplay between."

Mendelsohn says these allegations persuaded votes, and it's his mission to get Pouncey's dignity back and hold those accountable who did this.

We exclusively obtained letters from Mendelsohn to the Ethics Commission and General Counsel of the State Department of Education, requesting more information surrounding the anonymous claims.

A spokesman for the State Department of Education responded to our request for comment about Mendelsohn's letter, stating, "The Office of General Counsel has been in contact with Dr. Pouncey's attorney and will provide any information requested that would be available to the public."

Executive Director of the Ethics Commission, Tom Albritton, told us over the phone he, nor his general counsel, Hugh Evans, were aware of the letter.  The letter was written to Evans on Sept 23.

"We've requested opportunities to clear it up, and nobody wants to talk to us," said Mendelsohn. "What I am probably going to do is have to file a lawsuit and getting people under oath. And then get to the bottom of it."

Mendelsohn wants to make it clear, Pouncey isn't upset about not getting the position, and is ready to work with the new superintendent; this fight is about the principle of the matter.

"They are going to handle it, or I am going to handle it," said Mendelsohn. "We are going to get to the bottom of what happened to Craig Pouncey. I am going to do everything I can do get his name cleared."

Mendelsohn said this possible lawsuit is not about money, or it would have been filed weeks ago. It's about pointing out who defamed Pouncey.

"There are people at the State Department who don't want this all to come out," Mendelsohn said. "Part of the solution is whoever did this, doesn't need to be associated with education, whether it's an employee, board member or a secretary; those people need to be exposed for doing something like this."

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