Schoolgate

Andy Greene claims School Board of Broward County officials conspired to smear him and then covered it up. He's out for revenge.

Andrew Greene was at the freezer again, fishing for that pint of chocolate ice cream. It was sometime after midnight, and slivers of moonlight illuminated the teetering mounds of legal paperwork littering his musty house in Oakland Park.

It wasn't fear of a break-in that kept him up. Greene's house is probably the most secure on the block, with three separate cardboard signs plastered to a front window warning probing intruders to "Keep Out," and a sign on the front lawn and a couple of stickers on the door announcing that his place was guarded by a Brink's security system. No, Greene wasn't worried about burglars or vandals; his insomnia was inspired by an overwhelming obsession with the six-year legal battle he has waged with the School Board of Broward County.

Spooning a dark brown scoop of ice cream into his mouth, he went over it all again, how school board employees had smeared him in the press in 1992 by releasing confidential records to a Miami Herald reporter only a week before the Democratic primary in the school board election. Those records contained allegations that Greene had once toyed with the idea of taking out his aunt with a blow from a baseball bat. He recalled the devastating election defeat that followed the publication of the Herald article, the shame and isolation, and then the long, slow path toward vindication.

Last October, after a protracted and often bitter legal battle, a Broward County jury ordered the school board to pay Andrew Greene $850,000 for invading his privacy. But Greene's legal struggles are far from over. The School Board quickly appealed that judgment on a number of legal technicalities. "These guys will do anything not to give me a dime," says Greene between mouthfuls of chocolate cookie in the offices of his slick young appellate lawyers, Scott Mager and Seth Honowitz. "They need to pay for what they've done to me." Greene's preoccupation with revenge is now taking a new turn.

There is increasing evidence that employees of the school board may have indeed gone to considerable lengths to stop Andrew Greene's attempts at getting justice. In the coming weeks, Greene says he will be conferring with a criminal attorney regarding allegations that several school board officials involved in the case may have tampered with evidence and perjured themselves to cover up the truth, and those allegations might be grounds for pressing criminal charges.

In 1995, Tom Johnson, then an associate superintendent, was paid $130,000 to retire after he says he refused to lie by omitting facts when the school board's attorney, Eugene Pettis, asked him to do so prior to giving a deposition in the case. During a school board meeting, Johnson had been tapped on the shoulder by Director of Community Relations Merrie Meyers and asked to go get copies of Greene's personnel files, including any investigative reports, and deliver them to a Herald reporter. Johnson says Pettis later asked him not to discuss those events if questioned about them by Greene's attorneys. Pettis denies the charge. "That is absolutely not true," he says. "I would never instruct a witness not to tell the truth."

This past February an old appointment book that may have been crucial in proving Greene's case against its owner, current Director of Personnel Mark Seigel, was mysteriously stolen from Seigel's office the same week it was to be handed over to Greene's attorneys. Investigations turned up no evidence of a break-in. Seigel, who was reluctant to discuss the lawsuits, would only say that he believed the missing appointment book was now irrelevant since a suit Greene filed against him had been thrown out.

In 1992 Seigel had signed out Greene's personnel file the day after an editorial appeared in the Sun-Sentinel endorsing Greene's candidacy. Greene had campaigned on a platform of shaking up the school board by, among other things, attacking nepotism and cronyism within the school system. He had come in a surprisingly close second in a poll released before the election.

In a sworn deposition Seigel gave in 1995, he claimed he had signed out the file because he and Greene had recently discussed job opportunities in the school system. Seigel claimed he didn't even know Greene was running for office. Greene's attorneys point out that, shortly after signing out the file, Seigel was quoted in a news article defending the legality of its release, though not actually admitting any involvement. Along with suing the school board, Greene is also trying to sue Seigel and other individuals implicated in delivering his personnel records to the Herald. (He has appealed a judge's recent dismissal of the second suit.)

Greene likes to think about the cloak-and-dagger twists in the case in epic terms, harking back to the early '70s when Richard Nixon was managing his own cover-up and Greene was a young man with his first full-time teaching job. "It's just like Watergate," he says, his short brown hair spiked toward the ceiling as if electrified by his rage, "only it's Schoolgate."

Greene's rage is what got him into this legal mess in the first place. In 1985 his uncle Al Kaplan was near death and unable to speak. Greene believed his uncle would have wanted him to have the bulk of his half-million-dollar estate, but Al's wife, Sylvia, had other ideas. She had Al declared incompetent and took charge of his finances. Greene was not pleased. In fact he was downright pissed off. He carried that anger with him to work and even shared it with his supervisor, Nancy Adams. "That woman [Sylvia Kaplan] makes me so mad, I want to put her head through a wall and kill her," he told Adams. She responded by recommending that Greene visit one of the school system's in-house psychologists, who told Greene to "get over it" and "get on with your life." After two counseling sessions, Greene was back at work and eager to put his anger behind him. As fate would have it, his Aunt Sylvia died of cancer the next fall, beating her husband to the grave by six months. Al's small fortune was divided up into eighths, and Greene inherited $59,500.

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