Pontious files suit against News-Democrat

Steve Gonzalez Feb. 22, 2007, 12:45am

Deborah Pontious filed a defamation and invasion of privacy suit against the Belleville News-Democrat in Madison County Circuit Court Feb. 21, over a March 26, 2006, article which the lawsuit alleges misstated the reasons for Pontious' suspension from her teaching position at Effingham High School.

Pontious is represented by her husband, former Lakin Law Firm attorney Gary Peel, who now practices law out of his Glen Carbon home. He was indicted last year by a federal grand jury on charges of obstruction of justice, bankruptcy fraud and possession of child pornography.

According to the complaint, the News-Democrat published an article entitled "Peel Charges Have Effingham Buzzing" that contained the following statement:

"Before Madison County lawyer Gary Peel was battling federal charges of child pornography and fraud, he was waging a legal battle against a central Illinois school district where a math teacher, now his wife, was suspended for allegedly wearing a see-through skirt and no underwear."

Pontious claims that statement was false because she was not suspended for allegedly wearing a see-through skirt and no underwear.

She claims the statement is defamatory because it imputes that she is unable to perform or lacks integrity in performing her employment duties, imputes that she lacks ability in her profession, and/or otherwise prejudices her in her profession.

Pontious' lawsuit names as defendants the company that owns the News-Democrat and the reporter who wrote the article, Beth Hundsdorfer.

Pontious claims the News-Democrat article is an impediment to her ability to secure gainful employment in her chosen profession.

The article has placed her in a false light that "would be highly offensive to a reasonable person," the complaint states.

Pontious is seeking compensatory damages in excess of $150,000 and punitive damages in excess of $150,000.

Pontious filed a similar suit against the Record, its publisher, Brian Timpone, and reporter Steve Korris in September 2006.

On Jan. 31, Madison County Circuit Judge Daniel J. Stack dismissed that suit with prejudice. Pontious subsequently asked Judge Stack to reconsider his ruling. Pontious' motion for reconsideration remains pending.

In August 2002, Pontious filed a 20-count suit against an Effingham school district, administrators and staff raising various claims arising out of her suspension with pay in April 2002.

On Jan. 25, an Effingham jury cleared the school district of any wrongdoing. Peel also represented Pontious in that case.

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Belleville News-Democrat
120 S Illinois St
Belleville, IL 62220-2130

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