The exceedingly messy lawsuit between
Arthur “Terry” Newmyer and Sidwell Friends School is headed for trial—and the circle of high-profile Washingtonians
wrapped up in the case is expanding. At a hearing last week, DC Superior Court judge
Michael Rankin set a trial date of November 18, 2013.
Newmyer first filed suit against Sidwell and its former psychologist in May 2011.
He claims the psychologist had an affair with his wife while treating his daughter,
then five, and that Sidwell took “flagrant and outrageous actions” that allowed the
“open sexual relationship.”
For Sidwell—an elite private school in DC with an annual tuition of around $34,000—the
lawsuit is an embarrassing airing of dirty laundry, something it normally goes to
great lengths to avoid. The school’s parents, students, and alumni include many members
of Washington’s most prominent families.
President Obama’s two daughters attend Sidwell, as do
Vice President Biden’s grandchildren;
Chelsea Clinton and
Al Gore III both attended the school, as did the children of cabinet secretaries, journalists,
business leaders, senators, and congressmen, among others.
Newmyer’s lawsuit always had the potential to rope in some of the high-profile families
who knew of the affair or whose children had been in the care of the accused psychologist,
James Huntington, who also taught sex education to sixth-grade students during the year one of the Obama
daughters was in that grade. That potential turned into a subpoena for
Elsa Walsh, wife of journalist
Last April, Newmyer subpoenaed all of Walsh’s communications involving Huntington
and Sidwell—especially those related to Huntington’s handling of a bullying incident.
Walsh and Woodward have resisted the subpoena.
At a hearing last month, Newmyer’s lawyer,
Kerry Scanlon, argued that the Woodward/Walsh e-mails would show that Sidwell administrators knew
Huntington was conducting himself unprofessionally.
Judge Rankin has ruled that Woodward and Walsh have to turn over some of their e-mails.
Newmyer’s lawsuit has had the scent of scandal from the day it was filed on May 12,
2011. Newmyer’s complaint included e-mails with intimate details of the affair between
Tara Mehrbach, then Newmyer’s wife. They have since divorced.
And from the start, the case has raised two questions:
First, why would Terry Newmyer bring a case that could breach his child’s privacy
and expose graphic details of his ex-wife’s infidelity? Newmyer is a Sidwell alum
and comes from a prominent Washington family that has given generously to the school.
His complaint asks for $10 million in damages.
And second, why would Sidwell not settle the case rather than allow the seamy story
to play out in court? Newmyer, according to sources, attempted to settle the matter
before he sued. Sidwell declined. Once Newmyer filed, the school then moved to dismiss
the suit in favor of arbitration. The school requires parents to sign a student-enrollment
contract that includes an agreement that any disputes between the student or family
and Sidwell will be handled by a neutral arbitrator. Moreover, the contract says,
“Any material filed with the arbitrator, the contents of all depositions or testimony,
all documents produced during the course of the arbitration, and any remedy imposed
or damages awarded by the arbitrator shall remain confidential.”
Had the court granted Sidwell’s motion, much of the information that now sits in public
records would have remained private. But the motion was denied—Newmyer neither signed
the contract nor authorized his then-wife to do so on his behalf, so it was determined
that he was not bound by its terms.
Huntington has countersued Newmyer for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional
distress, among other things. He requested compensatory and punitive damages totaling
$13 million. Portions of the countersuit have been dismissed.
Details of the affair and the lawsuit are recounted in court documents filed in DC
and Florida—where Newmyer and Mehrbach were legal residents. They were married on
September 16, 2001; Newmyer is 20 years older than Mehrbach. Though they lived in
Palm Beach, they had “multiple houses” in the Washington area and a house in Maine,
according to Florida court documents. Newmyer filed for divorce in 2009. At the time,
the couple had two daughters under the age of five.
Instead of divorcing, they signed a settlement agreement that would allow Mehrbach
and the children to move to Washington while Newmyer remained in Palm Beach. They
agreed to have a commuter marriage, according to Newmyer.
In September 2009, their older child started pre-kindergarten at Sidwell. Though Newmyer
was an alumnus and a financial supporter of the school, he didn’t think the school
would challenge his daughter. According to court documents, he was concerned she would
be bored and “lose her advanced learning abilities at a young age.” But Mehrbach wanted
to send her to Sidwell. Newmyer suggested Mehrbach meet with school administrators
to insist they provide activities suited to her advanced skill level.
In January 2010, Sidwell’s staff psychologist, James Huntington, came to Mehrbach’s
house to evaluate her daughter. He watched her play and read and asked Mehrbach a
series of questions, according to court documents. The next day, a Saturday, Huntington
and Mehrbach met over drinks to discuss his recommendations. Mehrbach then e-mailed
Newmyer to report that Huntington had advised that their daughter needed an enriched
Sometime between the end of January and the beginning of February, Huntington and
Mehrbach began a sexual relationship. Huntington, who was divorced, had a daughter
at Sidwell in the same class as Mehrbach’s child. They would arrange play dates, according
to Newmyer’s complaint, so Huntington could professionally evaluate Merhbach’s daughter.
The play dates also gave the psychologist a chance to play around with Mehrbach. Their
relationship, according to Newmyer’s complaint, became public knowledge at Sidwell.
Liza Himmelman, questioned the affair. A child and adolescent psychologist, she warned her ex-husband
that his relationship with Mehrbach was harming both of their daughters. Huntington
even repeated his ex-wife’s concerns in an e-mail to Mehrbach:
“Do you really want that, Jack?” he quoted his ex-wife as writing. “When there are
so many women out there, safer women, that might not cost you your reputation and
job to have a relationship with? Is sex with her and are her blowjobs really worth
that much risk you are taking?”
“I said yes,” Huntington wrote to Mehrbach.
During the course of the affair, Huntington sent a number of sexually explicit e-mails
to Mehrbach from his Sidwell account—sometimes in the middle of the workday. His e-mails,
according to Newmyer’s complaint, graphically recounted their encounters, including
oral and anal sex, role-playing, and “manic rubbing and touching when [Huntington
is] under the influence.”
In a March 4, 2010, exchange excerpted in Newmyer’s complaint, Huntington e-mailed
Mehrbach expressing his desire “to be busy with [her] body,” and when she called to
discuss it but didn’t reach him, his follow-up e-mail explained why: “Your call enabled
me to kick out some 8th grade girls from my room. They were winners from Twin Day,
so they were eating their prizes in here and talking about male P.E. teachers that
try to hit on them.”
At the time of that e-mail—and for much of the duration of the affair during the 2009-2010
school year—Huntington taught sex education to Sidwell sixth graders, during which
time First Daughter
Malia Obama was in the sixth grade. Typically, the class is mandatory for all sixth graders, according
to former students.
In one of the e-mails included in the complaint, Huntington wonders whether he should
discuss the affair with Newmyer’s daughter. “Do I talk about masturbating on your
face or your marital situation with Terry . . . ? Decisions, decisions, decisions.”
According to the complaint, “on two occasions when a snow storm knocked the power
out, Huntington and Tara took his three children and her two children to the Embassy
Suites Hotel in downtown Washington. When checking into the hotel both times, they
asked for adjoining rooms so that they could ‘fool around’ while the children were
Liza Himmelman Huntington told Terry Newmyer about the affair in March 2010. Newmyer
confronted Mehrbach. Three months later, Newmyer refiled for divorce in Florida.
Beginning in February 2010, Sidwell was forced to deal with a bullying incident that
took place at the school. Huntington, as the school counselor, met with many students,
including the daughter of Bob Woodward and Elsa Walsh. According to Newmyer, Woodward
and Walsh were not pleased with the way Huntington handled the matter, and they registered
their displeasure with Sidwell via e-mail.
Newmyer charges that Huntington “violated the code of ethics governing psychologists”
when he discussed the Woodward matter with his lover. Referring to the Woodwards,
Huntington wrote in an e-mail to Mehrbach that he intended to “just lay it on the
line with [them]. (Maybe they can get me fired?) Beat Terry and Liza to the punch.”
Huntington would later apologize to the Woodwards, according to court proceedings,
as would three other Sidwell officials.
Huntington, Newmyer’s lawyer contends, had little respect for his profession. In an
e-mail dated March 10, 2010, Huntington wrote to Mehrbach, “Drugs, alcohol, shamans,
chakras, faith healers, voodoo doctor, and people that work with crystals and Ouija
boards, are usually a better, and my recommend first choice, route to go for help.
Shrinks are a last resort in my book.”
Newmyer says he contacted Sidwell and registered his concern that the school psychologist
was having an affair with his wife at the same time he was treating his daughter.
Despite many entreaties that included appeals from Newmyer’s family members to Sidwell
officials, little changed. On February 11, 2011, Newmyer sent copies of a detailed
memorandum on the matter to Sidwell’s board, along with some e-mails between Huntington
On February 16, 2011, Sidwell fired Huntington.
Three months later, Terry Newmyer filed suit against Sidwell and Huntington.
In the two years since Newmyer filed the case, the two sides have traded motions,
interviewed witnesses, and completed the discovery process. One of the most recent
contentious exchanges revolved around the Woodward subpoena.
Walsh received a subpoena for the correspondence nearly a year ago—April 2, 2012—but
she and Woodward have refused to comply. They have argued that the correspondence
is private, privileged, and irrelevant to the case.
In a motion filed January 28, Newmyer’s lawyers argued that Walsh and Woodward’s communication
was vital to their case. “During the course of discovery,” they wrote, “evidence was
produced that Dr. Huntington not only mishandled another situation involving a Sidwell
student but that he then breached that child’s confidences by disclosing private information
about her and her family, the Woodwards, to Tara Mehrbach, with whom he was having
a sexual affair at the time. It has also been shown that Dr. Huntington’s breach of
those confidences contributed to Sidwell’s termination of his employment.”
Newmyer’s lawyers point to that breach of privilege as crucial to their case against
the school. They contend that administrators allowed Huntington to remain in his job
even after they learned how he had mishandled his counseling duties.
Newmyer’s motion asked Judge Rankin to compel Walsh to turn over all correspondence—e-mails,
texts, faxes, voicemail messages, letters, et cetera—about Newmyer, Mehrbach, Huntington,
Huntington’s treatment of their daughter, and Sidwell’s psychological services in
Robert Liotta is handling the subpoena dispute for the Woodwards. He and Newmyer’s lawyer, Kerry
Scanlon, both declined to comment for this article.
According to a letter from Liotta, contained in court records, Walsh lodged an objection
with Newmyer’s attorney when she received the subpoena:
“Ms. Walsh told Mr. Scanlon that the allegations in the suit were incorrect and that
she had made the same assertion to Mr. Newmyer when the lawsuit was filed. She further
told Mr. Scanlon that she objected to the subpoena and wanted it withdrawn. Mr. Scanlon
told Ms. Walsh that he needed to talk to his client and would get back to her about
how to proceed. She heard nothing thereafter.
“At about the same time, Mr. Woodward called Mr. Newmyer to protest the subpoena.
Mr. Newmyer indicated that the subpoena would be dropped. Ms. Walsh relied on those
conversations and did not comply.”
Judge Rankin ruled against Woodward and Walsh and has ordered them to turn over some
e-mails. He narrowed the subpoena to include only written communications between the
Woodwards and Sidwell that cast Huntington in a bad light.
Liotta asked Rankin to seal parts of the record concerning the dispute over Woodward’s
subpoena. The record was sealed last month.
Barring a settlement—or Newmyer’s decision to drop his case—the public trial will
But why? Newmyer has already divorced Mehrbach. He doesn’t need the $10 million in
damages. He is living in Palm Beach with his two daughters from the Mehrbach marriage.
A Florida court gave him primary custody with sole control over decisions regarding
Newmyer has declined interviews, but people close to him say he’s seeking a full apology
from Sidwell, which he believes is necessary for his child’s welfare. He also asks
that Huntington have no contact with his daughter for seven years.
Neither Sidwell nor its lawyers would comment on why the school has declined to settle
the case. But word that Walsh and Woodward were forced to turn over correspondence
they considered private might add to pressure that Sidwell forgo the trial in open
court, which could provide weeks of salacious news.
The case, also, is a window into the small circle of relationships at the pinnacle
of Washington society. For one thing, it’s the second time in a year that the Himmelman
family has caused Woodward heartburn. Liza Himmelman Huntington is the sister of
Jeff Himmelman, the onetime Woodward book researcher whose semi-authorized biography last year of
Washington Post editor
Ben Bradlee raised questions about Woodward’s Watergate reporting. In his biography, Himmelman
quotes from a 1990 interview in which Bradlee said he feared Woodward had embellished
some of the reporting on Watergate: “There’s a residual fear in my soul that that
isn’t quite straight.” Woodward strongly objected to having his reporting questioned
and called Himmelman “dishonest.” Bradlee and his wife,
Sally Quinn, both issued strong statements of support for Woodward, with Bradlee saying, “I always
trusted him, and I always will.”
For his part, Judge Rankin was the fourth judge assigned to the case. The first three
all had to recuse themselves because of ties to Sidwell.
The first judge assigned in May 2011,
J. Ramsey Johnson, had a son set to graduate from Sidwell that spring, and both he and his wife have
donated to the school; the case then went to
Craig Iscoe, who also quickly recused himself—his son had graduated from Sidwell in 2006. The
case then fell to
Gregory E. Jackson, who had graduated from Sidwell in 1969. Only after Jackson recused himself did Rankin—who
grew up in Mississippi and whose children don’t attend Sidwell—finally hear the case.