HAMPTON — The Hampton School Board is suing former Superintendent Patrick Russo for $102,220 claiming he must forfeit money put into a retirement fund for him because he broke his contract with the school division.
Russo submitted his resignation in February 2009 after accepting a job to lead Henrico County Public Schools and his last day was June 30, 2009, one year before his contract in Hampton ended.
He is countersuing the board for $300,000 in Hampton Circuit Court, claiming it breached a transition agreement made with him in April 2009.
The transition agreement outlined Russo's role in the district after his resignation. It included that an interim chief would take his place, and that he wasn't expected to report to work but would be paid through June 30, 2009.
But the district withheld his paychecks for May and June, according to the countersuit, saying it would only pay him after he gave back the $102,220.
Russo's contract stipulated that a retirement annuity be set up as a joint account between both parties. Only Russo's name is on the account though, so the board can't go in and take the money.
The School Board alleges Russo established it that way on purpose, but he says it was set up by district employees and he was completely hands-off in its creation. The finance department that's headed by deputy superintendent Vic Hellman usually sets up such accounts, said board Chairman Fred Brewer.
So far, the district has spent $31,680 on the lawsuit and is represented by attorney Stanley Barr of the firm Kaufman & Canoles' Norfolk office.
Barr subpoenaed all information on Russo's retirement accounts, which are set up through Creating & Managing Wealth of Irving, Texas, and Lincoln Investment Planning of Wyncote, Pa.
"Among the questions is whether or not evidence will show that Russo set up the annuity himself," Barr said Wednesday. "He's saying the School Board set it up for him, which is not the case. The documents show that he set up the accounts."
Russo did not return a call left with his secretary in the Henrico superintendent's office Wednesday afternoon. He is being represented by Susan Childers North of the firm LeClairRyan's Williamsburg office.
He alleges in the countersuit that he told the board he believed they were holding secret meetings about his contract and employment, which violates Virginia law. Russo dropped defamation and potential fraud claims against the School Board in exchange for the transition agreement, according to the suit.
That agreement trumps the contract and doesn't stipulate him returning the money, according to his suit.
Brewer said that there is nothing intended or written in the transition agreement that would supersede any terms in the contract about forfeiting the retirement money.
"I'm disappointed that we haven't been able to agree on what appears to be straightforward language in an employment contract," he said.
The case is scheduled for a two-day trial beginning Aug. 17 in Hampton Circuit Court.
February 2004: Patrick Russo is hired in Hampton
September 2006: School Board renews his contract through June 2010
February 2009: Russo announces resignation after accepting superintendent job in Henrico County Public Schools
June 30, 2009: Russo's term with Hampton officially ends
November 2009: School Board sues Russo for $102,220 in his retirement fund
December 2009: Russo countersues for $300,000
August 2010: Two-day jury trial scheduled to hear the case