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Trial to begin in case of principal accused of forcing teacher to have sex

By Holly Fesperman Lee

Salisbury Post

Jury selection is expected to begin Jan. 16 in a law suit in which a former teacher accused a former middle school principal of forcing her to have sex.

The civil trial will be held in Rowan County Superior Court, with Judge Kimberly Taylor presiding.

In her law suit, former West Rowan Middle School teacher Laurie Mendiola says her former principal, Tony Helms, forced her to have sex with him on numerous occasions, threatening her job if she did not comply, according to court documents.

The relationship resulted in the birth of a daughter on Aug. 5, 2004.

Attorney B. Ervin Brown II filed the suit in May 2005 on Mendiola’s behalf.

The suit also claims the school system initially accepted Helms’ denial of the sexual involvement between the two and “took no action to rectify the situation.”

Helms admits to having an affair with Mendiola but said the relationship was entirely consensual, according to an answer to Mendiola’s lawsuit filed on his behalf.

Helms and Mendiola worked together at West Middle School during the 2003-2004 school year.

Helms retired in December 2004, and Mendiola’s last day with the system was Dec. 1, 2004.

According to documents at the Rowan County Clerk of Court’s office, 12 people have been subpoenaed to testify in the upcoming trial with more possible in the coming days.

Those subpoenaed so far include:

* Dr. Alan King, Rowan-Salisbury School System assistant superintendent for administration.

* Crystal Johnstone, Mendiola’s hair stylist during 2003 and 2004.

* Davina Stewart, a teacher at West Rowan Middle School.

* Chris Boylan, Salisbury High School assistant principal.

* Suzette Pritchard, Rowan-Salisbury middle school/high school Exceptional Children’s support teacher.

* Alice Weaver, West Rowan Middle School secretary.

* Dr. Robert Heffern, Koontz Elementary School principal.

Some of the most recent documents in the case file include a motion by the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education and former Superintendent Dr. Wiley Doby to require Mendiola undergo a psychiatric evaluation and psychological testing.

Judge Michael Beale granted that motion on Sept. 18.

“After hearing and upon good cause shown, the court finds that the plaintiff has put her mental health in controversy … The court orders the plaintiff to submit to a psychiatric evaluation by Dr. Robert Rollins and psychological testing by Dr. Arne Newman,” the order says.

According to the order granting the mental exam, Mendiola’s interview with Rollins was to consist of four hours of questioning to determine what psychiatric symptoms, if any, she displayed.

The psychological testing by Newman was also to be a four-hour process, including the post traumatic stress disorder diagnostic scale test, the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory test, neuropsychiatric screening test, academic screen and personality assessment inventory.

While the testing reports were not in the case file, a certificate of service certified that a copy of both evaluations have been served on all parties.

D. Todd Paris, Helms’ attorney , has designated Rollins and Newman as expert witnesses in the case.

Mendiola’s attorney has designated Clinical Psychologist Jerry W. Noble as an expert witness.

According to documents in the case file, Noble is expected to testify that Mendiola suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Previously, Tony Helms’ wife, Judy Helms, filed a motion to intervene in the suit.

She wanted to be added as a counter-claimant and sue Mendiola for Alienation of Affection and Criminal Conversation.

That motion was denied during the June 26 term of civil court.

Mendiola’s lawsuit claims she suffered post traumatic stress disorder which causes her to require intensive counseling and asks for damages “well in excess of $10,000, including but not limited to medical expenses, loss of income and loss of her mental health and well-being on each of the following causes of action:

* That all the defendants intentionally inflicted emotional distress on Mendiola.

* That Doby and the Board of Education were negligent in supervising Helms.

* That Doby and the Board of Education were negligent in retaining Helms after learning of the relationship.

* That Helms’ actions resulted in assault and battery, and since he was an employee of the Rowan-Salisbury School System, Doby and the Board of Education are liable for Helms’ actions.

* That Doby and the Board of Education wrongfully discharged Mendiola.” “As a direct and proximate result of the actions of … Helms…and the inaction of Doby and the Board, plaintiff was diagnosed…as suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and directed not to return to work.”

Contact Holly Lee at 704-797-7683 or hlee@salisburypost.com

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