With hundreds of comments swirling around the Internet and accusations being thrown from all sides following a lawsuit filed against 11 anonymous bloggers, Alcovy High School Principal LaQuanda Carpenter said she is baffled by the animosity but determined to follow her case through to the bitter end.
Carpenter and her attorney Stephanie Lindsey said the lawsuit filed April 25 cited defamation for libel per se and libel based on harm sustained as the result of defamatory postings on the website. It also claimed that the comments were made with actual malice. However, despite what some may think, Lindsey said the lawsuit was not filed to attack anyone who was providing constructive criticism of Carpenter or to expose parents because according to Lindsey and Carpenter, they do not believe parents were involved in the initial web comments filed in the complaint.
This belief comes, in part, from both women's thought that if concerned parents were making these complaints, they would have responded when Carpenter reached out to the bloggers. They said the lawsuit was not about money but rather to open a dialog with those making the comments in order to resolve any issues.
"Initially we waited in hopes that they would come forward and discuss this," said Lindsey. "Dr. Carpenter didn't just come in last week. We've been monitoring these blogs... over the last two months they have been more egregious, more malicious, and we know the intent is not to bring forth some changes in the school system, but to destroy the credibility and reputation of Dr. Carpenter. If you look at the history of the bloggers and the history of all the stories these bloggers have actually posted on, you can tell easily that this is not a person who is genuinely concerned about the system. And we are."
Lindsey said the bloggers in question have used the lawsuit as a means of attacking Carpenter, the school system and the board of education more.
"If she is the sorriest principal in the school system then she's the sorriest principal in the school system.
That's not improper [to say that], said Lindsey. "But when you start systematically attacking a person's credibility, alleging they've done something unlawfully or unethically, then that's a problem and that's when you've crossed a line and that's when we filed a lawsuit... The said part is that even after the lawsuit is filed, people are still doing it."
She cited several posts by a variety of bloggers - or at least several different blogger names - that accuse Carpenter of purchasing liquor during a retreat and of missing money, saying that was libel because it affected Carpenter's ability to get another job.
"As a principal - who would want a principal who is out there stealing money? Who would want a principal who is on the clock buying liquor at a retreat? Who wants that? I wouldn't want that... But that's all false. You would think that because of the lawsuit they would stop but instead they are perpetrating this mob mentality."
Carpenter and Lindsey said they believe that the bloggers are one or two people who have created multiple blog names and "who are out there to sabotage Dr. Carpenter. And we also thing these are the same people that have lodged attacks against Dr. [Gary] Mathews (NCSS Superintendent) and Dr. Dennis Carpenter (Deputy Superintendent for Operations and LaQuanda Carpenter's husband)."
The belief stems from looking at the history of the comments made by each blogger, each comment showing malice and that on several occasions comments have been made that essentially say the same thing within minutes of each other - some in the wee hours of the morning.
Lindsey says she is also shocked that The Citizen newspaper has announced they plan to fight the lawsuit so as not to release IP addresses of the bloggers who commented. She cited three recent cases in the state where a judge or jury awarded damages on defamation or libel suits. Georgia Press Association Attorney David Hudson said there is no established law in the state on the tests to be applied to force a website host to identify anonymous posters.
"I don't know why this is happening," said Carpenter. "I put my best foot forward every day. I have an open door policy, any person or parent calls I take their calls, I return calls; you want to come in? Come in. And when parents have concerns they pick up the phone... any problems that have been brought to us we have tried to work with them... as far as why someone would want to do these things, I just don't know... If there are individuals who are genuinely concerned I would love to sit down at the table and come up with solutions to whatever problems are identified. The other piece of it is to hold everyone accountable. Including myself. "