News & Politics

Disgruntled Parent’s Graphic Lawsuit Against Sidwell Friends Dismissed

A sexually explicit lawsuit against Sidwell Friends that has lasted more than two years and roped in brand-name Washingtonians such as Bob Woodward was dismissed this week—but is it gone for good?

DC superior court judge
Michael Rankin Wednesday threw out a
more-than-two-year-old lawsuit between Northwest DC’s elite
Sidwell Friends School, its former middle-school psychologist,
and an alum and onetime
parent. (DC Superior Court remains open during the federal

In the lawsuit,

filed by
Arthur “Terry” Newmyer in May 2011, Newmyer accused Sidwell psychologist
James “Jack” Huntington of having an affair with Newmyer’s now ex-wife while treating their daughter, five
at the time.

Newmyer contended that school officials were aware of the affair and did nothing to
stop it. Huntington had used his school e-mail account to send lewd messages to the
ex-wife, sometimes with students in the room. Newmyer, who was not yet divorced from
the woman at the time, sued for $10 million.

Following years of motions, a $13 million countersuit filed by Huntington, and the
airing of dozens of pages’ worth of sexually graphic e-mails between Huntington and
Newmyer’s ex-wife, Sidwell and Huntington moved for summary judgment in July.

They argued that Newmyer could not support his claim for malpractice against Huntington,
as Huntington was not treating Newmyer’s child. They also argued that Newmyer couldn’t
support his claim of emotional distress under District law. Newmyer’s lawyers disputed
both claims.

Following two hours of oral arguments held Wednesday, Judge Rankin—the fourth judge
assigned to the case after three others had to recuse themselves due to close ties
to the school—granted Sidwell’s motion for summary judgment, dismissing the suit.
A written ruling is still forthcoming.

In an e-mail to the Sidwell community yesterday announcing the dismissal, head of
Tom Farquhar wrote, “Mr. Newmyer may choose to exercise his right to appeal the decision, but
we are confident that Judge Rankin’s ruling will be upheld. We are deeply grateful
for the support our parents, employees and alumni have shown in Sidwell Friends School.
We strive, each day, to fulfill our mission to nurture a genuine love of learning
among our students and to be worthy of your continuing trust.”

Farquhar’s e-mail was one of the first times the school has acknowledged the lawsuit
outside of the court filings. While it’s been closely followed by parents and the
Washington community, the lawsuit has been rarely broached by the administration.
The case has proved an ongoing embarrassment to the elite school—home to both daughters
President Obama and a grandchild of Vice President
Biden—that prides itself on keeping dirty laundry private.

The case forced Sidwell parents such as
Bob Woodward and
Elsa Walsh to get involved, and it proved an ongoing distraction to the Sidwell board, led by
former Hillary Clinton aide
Lissa Muscatine, who now co-owns the Politics & Prose bookstore with her husband,
Bradley Graham, a former
Washington Post editor.

In a surprise announcement that school officials
maintain was unrelated to the Newmyer
lawsuit, Farquhar announced this summer that he’ll be stepping
down at the end of
the next academic year to become an organic vegetable farmer.

According to lawyers at this week’s hearing, Rankin said from the bench that he expected
Newmyer to appeal his decision. And it appears so far that Rankin was right. “Obviously,
we think the judge’s decision is wrong,” Newmyer’s attorney
Kerry Scanlon told
Washingtonian. “The first thing we are going to do is study the transcript of his ruling, which
was given orally.”

Then, perhaps an appeal. The pretrial conference scheduled for next Thursday remains
on the docket, though it may be converted to a motions hearing before then. Newmyer’s
attorneys have 30 days from the date of Rankin’s ruling to file their appeal.