School board contemplates filing defamation lawsuit against trustee candidate on election night

A Nevada school board considered legal action against a board candidate on election night in response to his criticism of district officials.

Brian Gale was running to be a trustee on the board of…

A Nevada school board considered legal action against a board candidate on election night in response to his criticism of district officials.

Brian Gale was running to be a trustee on the board of the Elko County School District, Nevada’s third largest, when he wrote a letter critical of district officials, published Nov. 1 by the Elko Daily Free Press.

In his letter, Gale attempts to explain what led to three board resignations just a week after two others resigned during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the Free Press, the first two resignations followed the board’s decision to make masks optional for students, contrary to the advice of Rob Salyer, counsel for the board. The next week, three more board members resigned, leaving just two who reinstated a mask mandate.

In his letter, Gale alleges the second round of resignations were “coerced” and “done entirely out of the public view, behind closed doors,” suggesting Superintendent Clayton Anderson was behind it, hoping to preserve his job. 

Gale further alleges Salyer “was able to convince The Three (board members), by threat of prolonged legal action against their businesses, jail time, and fines, to resign, even before they had time to seek a legal second opinion.”

A statement from the district released the day before the election summarized its claim that Gale’s letter was defamatory: 

“In the letter, Mr. Gale made several false and defamatory statements about the Superintendent and the Board of Trustees. The Superintendent is accused of both violating confidentiality and sabotaging the Board for personal gain. The Board, according to Mr. Gale, engaged in an abuse of power at taxpayer expense.

“Both the Superintendent and individual Trustees have suffered personal and professional damage as a result of Mr. Gale’s false statements. ECSD believes individuals who make baseless, dangerous accusations towards both employees and appointed and elected officials of a public school district should be accountable for their words and actions.”

According to the same statement, board President Teresa Dastrup and Superintendent Anderson added a potential defamation lawsuit against Gale to the agenda of the board meeting scheduled for the next day, the night of the election. 

The defamation lawsuit’s appearance on the agenda took at least some trustees by surprise.

Trustee Jeff Durham, who was on the ballot with Gale and was re-elected, said it wasn’t right to consider the suit on the night of the election, suggesting a “cooling off period” was needed. 

Notably, in his letter Gale explicitly lays no blame at the feet of current trustees, even complementing Durham, whom he was running against.

“Indeed my own opponent, Jeff Durham is a marvelous man, and under normal conditions would be a great choice for the board,” Gale wrote. 

Lee Hoffman, chairman of the Elko County Republican Party and frequent board meeting attendee, warned the board in a letter read at the board meeting of the “possible damage to our school district by continuing to fan the flames.”

Ultimately the board took no action on the lawsuit but left open the possibility of pursuing it in the future.

A letter from Gale to the trustees sent just days before the meeting apologized for statements “that might be interpreted to defame.”

“I do hereby rescind and unreservedly apologize for any and all statements I might have made that have been misconstrued as false or that might be interpreted to defame or disparage in any way the persons of Theresa Dastrup, Ira Wines, Susan Neal, Josh Byers, Matt McCarty, or Jeff Durham,” the letter reads. “I have not, to the best of my knowledge, ever made such a statement, but if one exists I do hereby withdraw it.”