Scottsdale parents sue district, Mark and Jann-Michael Greenburg
Competing defamation lawsuits have now been filed over a digital record that has sparked controversy in the Scottsdale Unified School District, with parents claiming the district violated their free speech rights.
Parent Amanda Wray is suing Mark Greenburg, the father of a school board member who collected social media posts and general information about parents and other district critics. The information was kept on a Google Drive which the parents discovered and shared with the media last fall. He was widely criticized and his son, Jann-Michael Greenburg, was ousted from his role as chairman of the board, although he retained his elected seat on the board.
Wray’s lawsuit filed May 5 in Maricopa County Superior Court alleges that Mark Greenburg defamed her by gathering bankruptcy information for someone with a similar name, but who is not her. The lawsuit claims he shared the file with his son and at least two other people. Falsely associating bankruptcy with her would harm her career as a financial adviser, according to the suit.
Mark Greenburg filed his own libel suit against Wray earlier this year, saying he gathered the information to protect his family and take legal action, not to share it publicly. His lawsuit claims Wray accessed Google Drive without permission and shared it with others. Wray filed a motion to dismiss the case.
Both lawsuits claim the other invaded their privacy.
Two other parents, Kimberly Stafford and Edmond Richard, joined Wray in the lawsuit to claim Mark Greenburg’s actions inflicted emotional distress.
Four of the six claims are directed only at Mark Greenburg and, by spousal association, his wife Dagmar Greenburg, but two of the claims extend to others. The parents claim Jann-Michael Greenburg deprived them of their right to free speech by blocking them from his Facebook page, where he discussed district politics.
They further claim that the Greenburgs and school district officials retaliated against them for exercising their First Amendment right to speak. The lawsuit claims that Jann-Michael Greenburg and district officials relied on Mark Greenburg to monitor, intimidate and silence critics.
“No parent in America should face retaliation from their own government officials and cronies for standing up for the rights of their own children,” said Harmeet Dhillon, an attorney representing the parents. “Children belong to the parents, not to the school district and not to the government, no matter what the government likes to say today.”
Read more: Masks, curriculum, ‘communism’: Scottsdale school district and board face ongoing unrest
Wray, Dhillon and Charlie Kirk, the founder of the conservative group Turning Point USA, announced the lawsuit at a press conference in Maricopa County Superior Court in Phoenix.
Political divisions have erupted in school districts across the country during the COVID-19 pandemic, including in Scottsdale where Kirk last August spoke out against mask mandates as “well-meaning measures” that ” abuse children”. Debates in Scottsdale and beyond have extended to issues such as how racial and LGBTQ issues are taught in schools.
Since Greenburg’s Google Drive was uncovered last fall, a flood of Republican candidates for statewide office have visited board meetings in support of conservative parents.
District spokeswoman Kristine Harrington denied the lawsuit allegations and said SUSD would remain focused on teaching and learning. “We deny the plaintiffs’ allegations and have full confidence in our judicial system to properly determine the outcome of this case,” Harington said.
Jann-Michael Greenburg did not respond to a request for comment.
“I have great confidence in our legal system and I look forward to these cases being properly tried by the courts,” Mark Greenburg said in a text message to The Republic.
“Us versus them” dynamic
Mark Greenburg has long been active in Scottsdale politics. The parents’ lawsuit describes him as well-known for his “dirty politics” and “settling scores against personal enemies through malicious litigation, defamatory impersonation and harassment.”
The lawsuit claims he was relentless in monitoring the parents’ social media activity and collecting screenshots.
The lawsuit says Jann-Michael Greenburg and the district provided it with information, such as unredacted copies of emails exchanged between Wray and the superintendent and unredacted emails Stafford sent to the district. The lawsuit repeatedly calls them “private communications.”
The school district is a local government subject to Arizona public records law, which means members of the public can request copies of emails and other records.
The lawsuit claims someone in the district informed him of the emails. He claims that Mark Greenburg routinely filed public records requests for copies of emails from parents complaining about him just hours after sending them to the district.
The suit depicts an “us versus them” dynamic.
They say this was evident when a school board meeting was closed in May 2021 because some attendees refused to wear face masks. The lawsuit details that the small number of disruptive parents did not include Wray, Stafford or Richard. Superintendent Scott Menzel overstated the level of disruption and called a Wray-administered Facebook group a source of “rumbling,” according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit questions how Menzel could have monitored the Facebook group if he wasn’t a member, and claims it was through Mark Greenburg’s Google Drive. The combination points to a computer screenshot that Menzel emailed to herself that was also on the drive.
A district-commissioned forensic investigation in February found that the superintendent and three school board members had not used district-issued computers in connection with Google Drive and had not seen any Google Drive-related activity. ci on the district mail server.
The parents’ lawsuit claims the forensic examination did not go far enough.
The lawsuit also claims it was unfair that the superintendent asked members of the Facebook group to ‘moderate the rhetoric’, while Jann-Michael Greenburg compared the group’s members to Nazis online, ‘claiming they had ‘done anti-Semitic, racist, and xenophobic comments.'”
Wray’s Facebook group, called Scottsdale Unified School District Community Advocacy Network, or SUSD-CAN, also received a cease and desist letter from the district asking it to stop using “SUSD” on its behalf, according to the lawsuit. . The lawsuit wonders if another group has faced similar demands.
Parents report emotional distress
The superintendent said the district did not create or endorse Google Drive.
Menzel told police in November that the filing was “in poor taste in terms of the prospect of some parents being on a list or being tracked that way.”
Scottsdale Police did not find any crimes within their jurisdiction because the drive contained only public or open-source documents. But records show some parents interviewed by police described feeling nauseous, terrified and vulnerable upon learning of the information gathered about them.
The lawsuit details that Google Drive contained items such as photos of Wray and Stafford’s children, financial documents, employment details and mortgage information. Wray threw up when she saw the information gathered about her, according to the suit.
The lawsuit claims that Mark Greenburg would create fake accounts to monitor parents on social media and make sarcastic comments.
“I guess I can understand how legally it doesn’t seem like it’s breaking any law. But the planned intimidation … is certainly alarming,” Wray said Thursday. “I stopped engaging with the school district and stopped going to school board meetings because I was physically scared. And to this day, I worry about my personal safety.”