MAKEOVER School defamation case will be tried here

By Janice Gregorson

A defamation lawsuit brought against the Rochester school district by the architectural firm that designed Century High School will stay in Olmsted County, a district judge ruled this morning.

Judge Robert Birnbaum rejected arguments made on behalf of the architects that the proper venue for the lawsuit is Hennepin County, where the lawsuit was filed. It was transferred to Olmsted County on a change of venue request from the defense.

Attorneys for Hammel, Green and Abrahamson Inc., a Twin Cities-based architectural firm, filed the lawsuit in Hennepin District Court in late May, seeking more than $50,000 in damages each from the Rochester public schools, Superintendent Jerry Williams and Chief Financial Officer Paul Bourgeois.


Boyd Ratchye of Minneapolis, attorney for HGA, told Birnbaum that his clients had designed and supervised the construction of Century. He said that after the school opened, the district filed a demand for arbitration, as provided in the contract, seeking in excess of $6 million, claiming breach of contract and professional negligence. Ratchye said that after two weeks of hearings, the arbitrator found in favor of the architects, saying there was no basis for the district's claims.

But eight months later, Ratchye said Bourgeois renewed all of the claims in statements made to a Post-Bulletin reporter. Ratchye said the reporter called the architects for response. The architects called Williams to advise them of Bourgeois' statements. Ratchye said Williams acknowledged the statements were false, but failed to take any action to contact the reporter in advance of the publication of the stories.

Now, the architects have filed a civil lawsuit, claiming defamation, negligence and violation of deceptive trade practices for causing false and misleading information to be published about the services of the architects.

But the issue in court this morning was whether the case should be returned to Hennepin County.

Jonathan Miesen of Minneapolis, attorney for the school district, opposed the motion to move the case to Hennepin County. He said all of the defendants live in Olmsted County and the lawsuit is based solely on statements allegedly made in Rochester and reported in the Post-Bulletin. He said there is no reason the case should be tried in Hennepin County.

Ratchye argued that the arbitration hearings were held in Hennepin County, that the Post-Bulletin is sold in Hennepin County and that the stories were published on the newspaper's Web site, which is accessible via the Internet.

Miesen also argued that Ratchye had failed to file his motion to quash the change of venue within the required time frame.

Birnbum agreed on both counts and denied the architect's motion.

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