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Judge overturns $10 million defamation award

July 2, 1997

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ A judge has overturned a $10.25 million defamation award that a teacher won against his former school, which accused him of sexual misconduct.

A jury had agreed that the former headmaster at Hill School, a private academy in Pottstown, defamed Wendell K. Chestnut by spreading rumors about sexual misconduct. But the judge who presided over the trial, Judge G. Craig Lord, ruled Monday that statements by then-headmaster Charles C. Watson ``were not capable of defamatory meaning.″

Chestnut’s attorney, Walter M. Phillips Jr., said he would appeal.

Chestnut, 30, worked at Hill as an English teacher and squash coach for 2 1/2 years before leaving in 1991 when four male students said he made sexual advances.

The charges were not proven. The teacher sued after Watson read a statement about the allegations at a faculty meeting.

Lord ruled that Watson had made it clear that he had not formed a conclusion about whether the allegations were true. And even if Watson’s statements were defamatory, Lord wrote, the $10 million award was still excessive.

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