Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Whitmore Academy Settles - but Doesn't Lose

Our legal system is set up in a way that most cases settle rather than going through trial. Insurance companies are notorious for wanting to settle to avoid going through a costly and often lengthy trial. Most clients are left with no choice but to settle their case, even when they know they are innocent.

And that's exactly what has happened with the Whitmore Academy case.

Many people who have followed this case, read most of the depositions (on both sides), hearings, etc. believe the plaintiffs would have lost their case if it had gone to trial.

The plaintiffs believed they had a multi-million dollar case when in reality the case settled for $450K – only a fraction of what they had expected. The question is why?

After reading the many facts of this case, it was clear to those who have been closely following the case that the plaintiffs never had a winning case. In fact, the initiator of this vindictive lawsuit withdrew. It has been said she did not want "blood money" when in reality it became obvious she simply did not want to be deposed.

The Deseret News wrote a very partisan article shortly after the settlement. They made no attempt to contact the defendants' lawyers or the defendants themselves.

Immediately after the article was released Phil Ferguson, the Suweeks' lawyer, contacted the Deseret News and wrote a letter to the reporter.
Below is a copy of the original e-mail that was sent to the Deseret News:

From: Phil Ferguson <>
Date: November 26, 2008 1:26:26 PM MST

Subject: Ex-school owners OK $450,000 settlement

Dear Ethan,

We were disappointed that you did not contact the Whitmore Academy or the Sudweeks before running your story regarding the recent settlement of the lawsuit against them. It has been our experience that Deseret News reporters generally contact both sides of a controversy before publishing their stories.

The Whitmore Academy is neither a “boot camp” nor a “wilderness program” as your story intimates. It was a boarding school that helped hundreds of troubled teenagers from across the country deal with a variety of difficult problems and return home to their families better off than when they arrived. The Whitmore Academy was inspected on numerous scheduled and surprise occasions by the Bureau of Licensing, the State Office of Education, the Division of Child and Family Services, the Health Department, and other regulators, none of whom found the conditions alleged by the Plaintiffs in the lawsuit. The families who filed suit were unable to verify the allegations of abuse set out in their complaint. As you know, anyone with a couple of hundred bucks and a grudge can file a lawsuit.

So why did the case settle? It was terribly expensive. The expenses already incurred by the parties exceeded the amount of the settlement by a fair margin and the parties still faced an 8-week trial. A great deal of preparation remained to get the case ready for trial. More to the point, the emotional burden on the Sudweeks was crushing due, in large part, to the fact that in the competitive environment of these troubled teen programs, it takes only a little bit of bad publicity, such as your article, to destroy a lifetime of work. Finally, the Sudweeks wanted to protect their family and move on with their lives.

Phillip S. Ferguson
15 West South Temple, Suite 800
Salt Lake City, Utah 84101
Telephone: 801.323.5000 x 306
Facsimile: 866.554.5492 (personal computer)
801.355.3472 (general office)

My support of the Sudweeks and their program prompted a group of radicals to target me on the Internet. They posted twisted truths and outright lies about me, my family and even some of my friends. They even accused me of supporting child abuse. As a parent whose daughter was abused at a teen help program, I would never support child abuse of any kind, including in any program. When their threats turned to my children I had no choice but to defend myself.

I endured a long and stressful court case and was as shocked as anyone else when the jury verdict was returned: $11.3 Million dollars in my favor. The jurors wanted to send a message to my abuser that you can't defame a person on the Internet simply because you don't like them.

It is clear to anyone who knows me and the work I have done that after a decade of helping thousands of families my motivation clearly is to help educate parents - not place their children in harmful situations.

If you would like to know more about me and my story you can read my first book, "Wit's End! Advice and Resources for Saving Your Out of Control Teen - A Mother and Daughter's True Story" published by Health Communications, Inc. (HCI). HCI is the publisher that brought you the Chicken Soup for the Soul Book Series.

In my opinion, many people in today's society sue others simply because they can. I was recently told by an attorney that his practice is booming as the economy declines. People are suing each other hoping for collections, often not understanding the scope of what it truly means to be involved in a lawsuit.

Mark and Cheryl will sustain this - with constant flow of encouraging letters from former students and parents, they know they helped literally hundreds of families. They made a positive difference. They will not allow a few money grubbers (my opinion) destroy their life's work. And the best news is a major Hollywood Producer is interested in bringing this story to the big screen, as well as a book that will be released by a major publisher. It is nice to know when bad things happen to good people, there are those that will use their ability to bring the real story to the surface.

As a footnote: There was also a criminal lawsuit that was filed against the Whitmore. The state indicated they did not have the evidence needed to prove abuse or to prosecute the Sudweeks. They entered into a plea agreement with the Sudweeks in an effort to resolve the case.
If reached this Blog from a website designed to slander me - claiming to be "the truth about me" however offers twisted truths and outright lies - take the time to learn about this group of former institutionalized people. Click Here and follow the other links on their pages. Sadly these people were formerly in programs and didn't have good experieces, however it doesn't eliminate the fact many have fantastic and lifesaving experiences.