Former Florida State learning specialist plans to sue school for defamation

Brenda Monk, one of the former Florida State employees alleged to be involved in an academic misconduct scandal, plans to sue the school for defamation, the St. Petersburg Times has learned.

A notice of that intent was sent to the school via registered mail on Wednesday, said her attorney, Brant Hargrove. That's a requirement under Florida law before one can file an action against a state entity.

In the letter supplied to the Times, Hargrove cited two main points:

• "Florida State (the University) failed to adequately investigate facts surrounding an allegation by the University that Dr. Monk failed to perform her duties as a Learning Specialist for Florida State University."

• "The University, after failing to properly investigate said facts, then released for public consumption, derogatory and defamatory statements alleging impropriety by Dr. Monk."

Monk, 59, a Ph.D. who was hired by FSU in January 2001 then resigned in the wake of the scandal in July 2007, will be seeking $600,000 from her loss of employment income and retirement benefits. She is now a principal at the school at the Lake City Correctional Facility.

State law limits damages to $100,000, but a jury verdict or out-of-court settlement can exceed that. But any amount in excess of $100,000 would have to gain Legislative approval and claims bills have rarely left the state House and/or Senate committees to be voted upon in recent years.

FSU general counsel Betty Steffens said in an e-mail the school had not yet received the notice.

FSU is facing major NCAA rules violations in the case that is said to have involved 61 student-athletes and three former employees of Athletics Academic Support Services — Monk; Hillard Goldsmith III, an adviser; and an unnamed student tutor. Most of the case centers on student-athletes being given the answers to quizzes for an online music course.

After months of investigation, FSU self-reported the scandal and imposed a number of penalties, including scholarship reductions in 10 sports. School officials appeared before the Division I Committee on Infractions in Indianapolis on Oct. 18 and expect to hear within a couple of months what, if any, additional sanctions the school will face.

According to the official case summary that was supplied to the committee and recently obtained by the Times through a public records request, Monk is said to have: improperly typed and edited "portions of student-athletes' papers whom she believed had learning disabilities"; asked one student-athlete to enter the answers from an exam form that was left behind by another student-athlete; created a study guide that "at least five student-athletes" used to take quizzes for the music class; and that she "provided at least one student-athlete" with answers to quizzes.

In an exclusive, 90-minute telephone interview with the Times this month, Monk admitted she made a "mistake" in asking one player to key-in test answers for another, but vehemently denied she committed fraud and that she is "not a dishonest person." Her university personnel file contains just one performance evaluation, and it was glowing.

Monk paid her own way to attend the infractions hearing and answered questions for several hours. Hargrove, who accompanied her, said the decision to sue had nothing to do with how that closed hearing went and everything to do with the process leading up to it.

"The NCAA is not configured in a way to get at all the facts," he told the Times.

Neither the NCAA's enforcement staff nor a school such as FSU has subpoena power. None of the hundreds of interviews was done under oath. Hargrove couldn't sit in on any of the interviews with student-athletes or staff who may have said something good, bad or indifferent, about his client, which meant he had no chance to clarify any statements, let alone cross examine them.

"A lot of conclusions have been based on very vague statements," he said. "We're moving into a forum where I can get at all the facts."

Brian Landman can be reached at landman@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3347.

Former Florida State learning specialist plans to sue school for defamation 10/29/08 [Last modified: Friday, October 31, 2008 7:41pm]

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