Wrongful Termination Lawsuit Filed Against State Superintendent Hofmeister

Friday, November 9th 2018, 6:07 pm
By: Alex Cameron

The key witness in a now-dismissed criminal case against state Superintendent Joy Hofmeister is suing Hofmeister and two others for wrongful termination and lost wages, among other things.

Ryan Owens, who rose to the position of executive director for the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration (CCOSA), alleged Hofmeister used her influence to have him terminated because he provided damaging evidence against her to the state.

Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater charged Hofmeister and four others with multiple campaign finance violations on November 3, 2016.

According to court documents, Owens signed a letter of resignation from CCOSA five days later, "under coercion of immediate termination."

In a statement for News 9 Friday afternoon, Hofmeister, who was just reelected to a second term, provided a brief statement: "The claim is entirely untrue and unsupported."

Less than a year after filing the charges against Hofmeister, Prater dropped the charges in August 2017.  At the time, Prater indicated the case could be refiled in the future.

Last month, however, Prater stated that the investigation, at least as far as it might involve Hofmeister, was completely over.

"There is nothing there to look at," Prater said.

Owens's lawsuit also names CCOSA and Jerry Needham, superintendent of Oktaha Public Schools, and CCOSA's executive committee director at the time of Owens's resignation.

Owens is seeking a minimum of $75,000 in damages, cumulatively, from Hofmeister and co-defendant Needham, as well as, a minimum of $150,000 from CCOSA.

In the suit, Owens claims, as part of his political advocacy work for CCOSA, "he was tasked in 2013-2014 with ensuring that Janet Barresi was not reelected as State Superintendent of Education."

To that end, he claimed he became heavily involved with Hofmeister's campaign, as well as with an independent expenditure campaign. 

The lawsuit stated Owens was questioned by both the Oklahoma Ethics Commission and the district attorney's office about both in 2015.

State law prohibits coordination between a candidate and an independent expenditure group.