Posted on Nov 05, 2006
Jury awards Hampton High coach $2.2 million
Hampton's city attorney says she may appeal the jury's decision.
BY KIMBALL PAYNE
November 3, 2006, 5:09 PM EST
HAMPTON -- A jury this week awarded Hampton High School football coach Mike Smith nearly $2.2 million for damages suffered after he was suspended following allegations that he spit on one of his own players in 2001.
Smith is a Peninsula legend and the winningest coach in Virginia high school football history, with 12 state championships.
The lawsuit stems from an on-field incident during a game against Kecoughtan High School. A 16-year-old Hampton player told police that Smith confronted him and then spit on him. A misdemeanor assault and battery charge against Smith was dropped months later, after he agreed to drop charges against the player's father.
Smith said the parent later pointed at him and yelled, "I'm going to get you."
Before the cases were dropped, Smith was suspended by the school district for three days for insubordination. According to court documents, Smith was punished because he refused to heed repeated requests not to discuss the incident with students during the investigation.
Smith's lawsuit, filed in the summer of 2002 against Hampton High Principal Anthony Woods and Hampton City Schools Personnel Director Alvin Johnson, claimed that school officials humiliated and defamed Smith by talking to reporters about his suspension.
Smith initially asked for $42.5 million because he contended that those public discussions violated his right to maintain a private personnel file.
Woods was dismissed as a defendant during the pretrial wrangling. The jury heard three days of testimony this week before siding with Smith.
Hampton City Attorney Cynthia Hudson said she had yet to speak with Johnson in-depth about the outcome, but they are considering an appeal, which would have to be filed in the next month.
"We don't agree that the verdict is consistent with the evidence," she said.
Hudson would not comment on where the payout would come from, leaving it unclear if city taxpayers would have to foot the bill.
Smith did not want to comment on the case but his lawyer, Stephen Forbes, said he did not see any avenues for questioning the jury's decision.
"I can't think of anything that jumps off the page," Forbes said.
Smith has been at the helm of the Hampton High Crabbers for 36 years, except for a six-week retirement in 2002 that he never really explained. He has turned in 10-win seasons 23 times. This year's squad was 7 – 1 heading into tonight's game against Menchville High School at Todd Stadium.