Wife can't be forced to testify against suspended Penn Hills principal

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If the Penn Hills school board wants to fire its suspended middle school principal for immorality, it will have to do so without the benefit of testimony from his wife.

Davaun Barnett, who has been suspended without pay from the Linton Middle School since June, faces three disciplinary charges including one for alleged actions listed in a protection from abuse order, or PFA, filed against him by his wife, Lisa Barnett, in May.

In it, she alleged that her husband told her "that if I did not get out of our home I would 'wake up in a pool of my own blood' because he said he was going to 'slit' my throat."

The school board, which has taken testimony three times in Mr. Barnett's case, was expected to sit for the last time Wednesday night. Ira Weiss, who is serving as the administrative law judge on the school hearing, said he expects the board to issue a decision before the end of November.

Ms. Barnett was subpoenaed to testify, but after she said she would not testify, school solicitor Craig Alexander on Tuesday filed a petition to compel her testimony. He called it "crucial" to the immorality charge.

"That's not the type of teacher or principal the Penn Hills School District wants to have around," he told Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Judith L. A. Friedman at Wednesday's hearing.

Mr. Barnett's attorney, David Smith, has argued that the PFA is a hearsay document and cannot be used against his client.

Mr. Weiss said the PFA can be considered by the board in its decision, but the members will have to weigh its value.

Ms. Barnett, an attorney and adjunct faculty member at Duquesne University, told the judge that spousal privilege -- recognized in both the civil and criminal court system -- also applies to the administrative proceeding her husband is going through.

"I think the statute is clear. One spouse cannot be forced to testify against another," she said.

Further, she argued that being compelled to testify causes only additional embarrassment for her family.

"It has already come to finality," Ms. Barnett said.

No criminal charges were filed against Mr. Barnett, and the PFA was vacated less than two weeks later through a consent agreement. It required Mr. Barnett to stay away from the couple's residence for at least 90 days, to complete an anger management program and to obtain mental health treatment.

The agreement also noted that Mr. Barnett "strictly denied all allegations" in the PFA.

Still, the school board is attempting to use the PFA allegations as a ground for termination, along with allegations he failed to account for $300 from a fundraiser and for failing to follow proper procedure pertaining to a bomb threat at the middle school.

Paula Reed Ward: pward@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2620. First Published October 30, 2013 12:56 PM

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