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Whistle-blower verdict tested

The Hillsborough County School Board has asked a federal judge to overturn a jury verdict that found the school district violated the whistle-blower and First Amendment rights of a former administrator.

In motions filed Tuesday, School Board attorney Greg Hearing said the jury's verdict, which found in favor of former administrator Doug Erwin on two counts and in favor of the school district on a third, was inconsistent.

In the motions, Hearing said that during the December trial, Erwin's attorney made arguments that confused the jury into reaching a verdict based on emotion instead of fact.

Erwin, a 33-year school employee and former principal of the year, quit in January 2002 after superintendent Earl Lennard reassigned him from his job as director of operations and maintenance to a task force.

His new job was to pinpoint $100-million in waste that he had alleged.

After three days of difficult deliberations that almost ended in deadlock, a majority of jurors agreed the school district retaliated against Erwin under the state's whistle-blower law and violated his First Amendment free speech rights.

They awarded him $175,000 in damages for pain and suffering, plus extra money for his lost earnings.

Jurors also concluded that school officials did not breach Erwin's employment contract as he had claimed.

Hearing said that if U.S. District Judge James Whittemore refuses to overturn the verdict, the school district may appeal.