Retired Manatee school board attorney John Bowen blasts breach of confidentiality allegation

jajones1@bradenton.comMay 9, 2014 

MANATEE -- Manatee School Board attorney Jim Dye, who expressed concern that retired school board attorney John Bowen may have violated client confidentiality in his remarks to newspapers, is now taking some return fire.

"You still have not identified the confidential information that I have disclosed in violation of the rule as you claimed I have done," Bowen wrote in an email to Dye.

"You stated to the School Board and to the public listening during the meeting on April 22, 2014, that what was disturbing to you is that it appeared in your eyes that some of the comments in the news 'may be crossing the line over what confidential information is.' There are numerous comments quoted in the articles provided. Exactly what are the comments to which you referred as 'crossing the line?' What confidential information was disclosed?" Bowen asked.

At the April 22 school board meeting, Dye told school board members that Bowen is still bound by client confidentiality, and that some of his comments have shown up in the newspaper.

Dye asked if board members would like him to send a reminder to Bowen regarding his responsibility for maintaining confidentiality.

School board members unanimously approved sending the letter to Bowen. If Bowen makes additional comments after the reminder, the board authorized Dye to notify the Florida Bar.

Bowen has been vocal about Superintendent Rick Mills' efforts to terminate suspended assistant superintendent Robert Gagnon and two assistant principals at Manatee High School.

The suspended administrators are alleged to have failed to report a suspicion of child abuse by Manatee High School parent liaison Rod Frazier. All three suspended administrators have been charged with felonies and are awaiting trial.

Frazier recently entered pleas of no contest to three misdemeanor counts of battery and three counts of interfering with school attendance. He will serve no jail time.

Dye did not specify during the school board meeting what comments Bowen had made that might have breached client confidentiality.

Bowen said Thursday that he is still waiting on Dye to answer his question about specific violations of client confidentiality.

"Those are not difficult questions. I am sure that you would not publicly make such a serious allegation concerning a possible violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct of the Florida Bar without having the specific comments in mind. Please identify those specific comments and the confidential information that was disclosed," Bowen wrote in his email to Dye.

"If you cannot identify the specific objectionable comments and the confidential information disclosed, then an apology is in order for publicly making reckless and unfounded allegations," Bowen concluded.

In a followup email Thursday, Bowen seized upon a query by school board member Dave "Watchdog" Miner, also at the April 22 meeting, about whether Bowen was still a member of the Florida Bar.

Dye replied that he thought Bowen was still a member.

Bowen said Thursday he has not been a member of the Florida Bar since retiring in December 2013.

"I am only providing you with a 'warning' that you should be careful before making public statements suggesting that I have violated the Bar rules," Bowen wrote Dye. "Had you simply called me or inquired of the Bar ethics counsel concerning my membership, you could have avoided the misrepresentation to the Board that resulted in the unnecessary and unwarranted action by the Board. That would seem to have been the prudent thing to do," Bowen wrote.

People answering the phone at the school administration building and at Dye's private law practice said he was not in the office Thursday. Dye did not reply by deadline to messages left at his home and his office.

James A. Jones Jr., Herald reporter, can be contacted at 941-745-7053 or on Twitter: @jajones1.

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