It's been nearly three years since the Harrisburg School District Board of Control rescinded the contract of Superintendent Gerry Kohn and two deputies.
Despite the fact that he had 16 months remaining on his contract, Kohn was removed without notice or a hearing. He told abc27 that March night in 2010 how sad he felt at what happened to him.
But Kohn's frown has likely been turned upside down. He will get the last laugh, and a $1.2 million payout, as part of a $2.4 million wrongful termination settlement with the district.
Kohn's two deputies, Julie Botel and Becky Hostetler, and their attorneys will split the other $1.2 million, according to Kohn's attorney, Walter Cohen.
"They fired him without giving him any of the rights he had under the law," Cohen said at his Harrisburg law firm Thursday morning.
Corky Goldstein was on the appointed board that relieved Kohn of his command.
"We did not feel that notice and a hearing were necessary," Goldsten said. "In retrospect, I guess I have to say it's very unfortunate."
Unfortunate for the district and its insurance carrier, a fortune for Kohn, his deputies and lawyers.
Goldstein insists Mayor Linda Thompson did not pressure him or the board that she appointed to fire Kohn. But Thompson did pledge during her mayoral campaign to terminate Kohn, an appointee of former mayor Steve Reed.
"The mayor carried out her personal vendetta against him through her appointed members of the board of control to fire him without meeting his legal and constitutional rights," Cohen said.
Harrisburg's solicitor at the time, James Ellison of Rhoads and Sinon, advised the Board of Control that it didn't have to give Kohn notice or a hearing. It was an opinion shared by then-Senator Jeff Piccola (R-Dauphin). Piccola, the Senate Education Committee chairman, wrote the Empowerment Act.
"Putting aside former Senator Jeff Piccola's interpretation of the Empowerment Act that he was essentially writing, it's still a violation of the constitution," Cohen said.
On Thursday by phone, Piccola said it's still opinion that no hearing was required, but said all legislation is subject to "judicial interpretation."
Goldstein said its lawyer and the state senator who wrote the law made the board feel it was on firm legal ground in rescinding Kohn's contract. He now wishes they had just given Kohn a hearing.
"The Board of Control members were not paid," Goldstein said. "I think we're good people. We thought we were doing the right thing based on everything that we knew and it's unfortunate we had to make this settlement."
But Goldstein said the settlement needed to be made to, "cut our losses."
According to Cohen, the $2.4 million will be paid like this:
- $2 million by the School District's insurance company;
- $250,000 by Rhoades and Sinon, Ellison's firm, or its insurance carrier;
- $125,000 by the Harrisburg School District.
Kohn, who's $235,000 contract was terminated 16 months early, will somehow get $1.2 million. Cohen said it's for unpaid pension and healthcare, but it still doesn't quite add up.
"I learned a long time ago that life isn't fair," Goldstein said. "And when I think about him getting that kind of money, it brings back that that life is not fair."
Cohen counters that a team of lawyers, also being paid big bucks by insurance carriers, failed to remember a basic legal tenant.
"Contract 101, a contract is a contract. It has legal standing," he said.
Kohn, who Cohen says is now living in Florida, is no stranger to suing districts and winning. He did the same thing to a prior employer, the Vineland School District in New Jersey.