Teacher sues eighth grader expelled for home page

PENNSYLVANIA — A middle school teacher and principal are suinga former student for defaming them in his personal Web site.

Justin Swidler was expelled from Nitschmann Middle School in Bethlehemin August 1998 after school officials discovered his Web page. He and hisfamily filed a lawsuit against the school, which is currently pending,in October 1998 to have the expulsion reversed.

Kathleen Fulmer, his former math teacher, filed a lawsuit against Swidlerand his family in November 1998, claiming that Swidler’s Web site defamedher character. In May 1999 the school principal, A. Thomas Kartsotis, alsofiled a similar lawsuit against the Swidler family.

Swidler was in the eighth grade when he created the Web page from hishome. The page contained images of Fulmer and Kartsotis, comments aboutthem and vulgar language. In one part of the site, a photo of Fulmer morphedinto a picture of Adolf Hitler.

A Northampton County judge ruled last year that some of the materialon the site may be considered defamatory and allowed the case to proceed.In January, one of Swidler’s attorneys, Richard Maurer, filed a motionrequiring the court to tell jurors exactly which parts of the Web sitemight legally be considered defamatory.

“We’re not seeking to prevent the jury from seeing anything,” Maurersaid. “We are seeking for the jury to be instructed that only small portionsof this Web site are potentially defamatory.”

Maurer expects the lawsuits against the Swidler family to go to trialin the fall.

“The price [Swidler] has paid for speech has been very, very high,”Maurer said.