Charter school parents' long legal fight ends

by Martha Woodall, Staff Writer:

For 7 1/2 years, several parents of former students at Agora Cyber Charter School lived under the cloud of a defamation suit that would not go away.

The school's founder, Dorothy June Brown, had sued the parents after they asked questions about operations of the taxpayer-funded school. She said they had made statements implying that she was "corrupt, incompetent, and possibly criminal."

The suit quietly ended 13 days ago when Montgomery County's prothonotary, in a housekeeping move, closed the case because there had been no activity for more than two years.

That was a relief for the parents, who had watched the case drag on even after federal authorities charged Brown with defrauding Agora and three other charters she founded of $6.7 million.

A judge had placed the case on hold, pending the outcome of the criminal trial. Yet it remained on the court docket after Brown's first trial ended in a hung jury. And it lingered after a retrial was canceled last November when a federal judge found Brown, 78, incompetent because she has dementia.

"I told my family it was finally, legally over," said Gladys Stefany of Milford, Pike County.

"There was always a cloud there - whether conscious or not. There was a weight," Stefany said.

"Seven and a half years, we struggled to preserve our First Amendment rights," Angelique Smith said. She said legal bills from the suit caused her and her husband, Ira, to fall behind on their mortgage and lose their home in Parkesburg, Chester County. "This whole thing was meant to intimidate us, harass us, and silence us."

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