Former Montgomery County School Superintendent Charles M. Bernardo, who was asked to resign last summer as chief of the Utah school system two weeks after being appointed, has filed a $5 million libel suit against a small Utah weekly newspaper and a number of unnamed Maryland and Utah residents.
Bernardo, who resigned as head of the Montgomery schools after a tumultuous relationship with the Montgomery Board of Education, claims an article headlined "A Leader for Our Children; the Case of Charles Bernardo" contained "false and defamatory" information that caused him to be the focus of "public hatred, ridicule, shame and disgrace" and harmed his ability to find another job.
The article at issue, by columnist Susan Roylance, was published June 16 on the editorial page of the weekly Spectrum. The suit, filed in a Utah court, alleges that the article falsely stated that Bernardo had been fired from his job in Montgomery County and, while in Montgomery, had lived with a woman other than his wife, had tried to put obscene literature into a 10th grade English class, had been sued by parents, staff and teachers, had been unable to work with public officials and other people, and had at one time hired as a staff assistant a man who had been arrested for child molestation.
The suit names as defendants Spectrum Newspapers, publisher A. Gail Stahle, Roylance and several other persons, including 10 identified only as "John Does" from Maryland and Utah who may have provided information to Roylance.
In the suit, Bernardo reserved the right to identify the unnamed Maryland and Utah residents and expand the number of defendants.
Bernardo, considered an innovative and liberal educator, resigned from his Montgomery job in 1979; he had been the chief issue in the previous year's school board election campaign in which the winning candidates had promised to fire him.
Under the settlement with Bernardo when he resigned, the board agreed not to criticize him publicly.
Bernardo, who is now a real estate agent in Florida, declined comment on his suit.
Roylance could not be reached for comment; publisher Stahle said she no longer works for the paper and is an official of the United Families of America, a profamily lobbying organization.